EV Trib Article-Mesa Police Department faces $7.6M cut (10.20.08)

November 20, 2008 – 1:02PM

Mesa Police Department faces $7.6M cut

Sonu Munshi, Tribune

Mesa Police Chief George Gascon informed his agency’s roughly 1,500 employees via video and e-mail that the ongoing efforts to slash the city budget will translate to a $7.6 million cut for the police department up to the rest of this fiscal year, which ends in June. And it doesn’t get better for the next fiscal year, with another $15 million in projected cuts.

Mesa could lose 346 positions

In an e-mail sent to employees Wednesday, Gascon alluded to the broader economic crisis facing the nation and Mesa. Gascon chalked out a bullet point-style list of proposed ideas that he’ll likely share with the Mesa City Council in an upcoming study session.

These include reduction of the patrol vehicle fleet by 25 patrol cars and retiring 16 police motorcycles, eliminating 19 vacant sworn officer positions and nine civilian positions, which include seven vacancies and two layoffs.

Sixteen open sworn positions and 26 open civilian positions will be frozen.

There will be a hiring freeze of all sworn positions “until projected financial savings are reached between FY08/09 and FY 09/10,” Gascon stated in the e-mail.

Another proposal is to privatize municipal security. That would cut about 25 filled personnel positions, if approved. These are employees who handle security in city buildings.

There also will be a freeze on purchase of new vehicles in the next fiscal year.

Aviation flight hours could be reduced to five hours per shift.

Equipment, including laptop computers and handheld radios, will have to be shared by officers.

Gascon has an operating budget of $162 million this fiscal year, but the proposed revised budget for this year is down to $157 million. In January, Gascon had announced plans to cut $7.2 million by December 2008.

Sgt. Bryan Soller, president of the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police, a police union, said Thursday he was concerned about the hiring freeze.

“It’s a sad day for Mesa that we even have to get on this road,” Soller said. “Then it goes to officer safety issues and we’ll be shorthanded.”

Soller said he agrees with Gascon’s proposal to “decentralize SWAT and traffic units and do part-time patrol duty.”

Mesa police spokesman Sgt. Ed Wessing, said Gascon believes it’s a better to have traffic units, for instance, at each district versus having a traffic unit in one area of the city.

“That way the division commander of the district would deploy them based on the needs of the district,” Wessing said. They will be performing the same functions, Wessing added.

But Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association, stated via e-mail that “Both Traffic and the full-time SWAT team, will have their effectiveness impacted negatively as they are scheduled to be farmed out to patrol districts to assist with patrol duties. This will impact their ability to focus 100% on traffic safety and DUI enforcement.”

Cota has been firm about raising the idea of imposing a secondary property tax to finance public safety projects. It’s something he’s been discussing with the city council.

“If the economy improves and sales tax revenues go up for next fiscal year and we levy a secondary property tax, that would allow us some money to staff new buildings and have adequate personnel,” Cota said.