Mesa police facing $7.2M budget cut

Katie McDevitt
East Valley Tribune
January 24, 2008 – 12:02AM

Mesa police must slash $7.2 million from the department’s budget in the coming year in response to a forecast drop in city sales tax revenue. City officials said public safety won’t be affected, but Mesa’s two police unions said it’s too early to know for sure.
Economy forces Mesa to cut deeper, “The sad part is we’re going to be providing inferior service to what we have in the past. … It kind of gets me to wonder if all that crime-fighting is going to be negated,” said Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association.
General Fund sales tax revenue is expected to be $4.6 million lower than anticipated in fiscal 2007-08 and $8.2 million lower in the 2008-09 budget year, police Chief George Gascón said in a video memo to police employees last week over departmental e-mail.
This means the police department must reduce its more than $147 million operating budget by about 5 percent, a cut of $7.2 million, in the coming year, the memo said.
“It’s forcing our managers to look more globally about what resources are out there,” said John Meza, assistant police chief.
The department plans to make the cuts by purchasing less equipment, reducing overtime, reducing calls for service by not responding to nonserious calls and by spreading resources more evenly across the city, beginning Feb. 1.
But while the budget cuts already threaten to reduce the number of officers on the street, the city’s one tax earmarked for hiring officers will also come to an end in the coming year.
The quality-of-life tax allowed Mesa police to hire 12 officers per year for the past 10 years, and although it still funds those hired officers, it won’t be in place to pay for any more officers in the future, Meza said. Officials said the department will compensate by staffing at basic service levels, where police are covering the city to the best of their ability, and critical staffing levels, which is where the department’s number of officers on the street “falls significantly low,” Meza said.
But when officers call in sick or when a particular area demands more cops, supervisors will now move officers around from other parts of the city to needed areas, instead of paying overtime to officers to stay late or work on their days off.
“Once you reach critical staffing levels, yes, you can call people in for overtime,” Meza said.
But most of the overtime work will have to be slashed.
Cota said Gascón’s video memo resulted in a “torrent response” from union members concerned about everything from being unable to make ends meet without overtime pay to officers’ compensatory time being restricted.
“I think our chief is caught between a rock and a hard place, and he’s trying to minimize the impact it has on us and the citizens,” Cota said.
However, officials aren’t just asking police officers to be patient — they are also hoping the public will understand possible lengthier response times and seeing fewer officers on the streets.

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