Desert Hot Springs Police Want Tax Hike and to Close Youth Center or For City to Go Bankrupt
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – The Desert Hot Springs Police Officers Association has offered the city a financial plan to continue paying officers salaries. And if the city does not accept the POA plan, the POA said through its attorney is willing to drive the city into bankruptcy according to an article published today in The Desert Sun.
‘We are willing to make concessions to the contract but if they don’t recognize the contract we don’t have a lot of choices,” said POA attorney Wendel Phillips.
Raise Taxes and Close Youth Center
The financial plan the police officers put forward includes a new sales tax estimated to raise $1 million with all proceeds going to police officers salaries. To free up more money, the POA said the city should also close the city’s new Health and Wellness Center, a community center which includes the new city pool less than a year old, a low-cost dental clinic, public meeting rooms, and the Boys and Girls Club.
The police officer’s plan also calls for an increase in property taxes. Both taxes, however, will be required to go to the voters for approval. The soonest that could go on a ballot would be June 2014.
Not Enough Time
Meanwhile the city is uncertain if it will have enough cash to make it to June. The POA representative seems to have not looked at a calendar or done his math.
City Manager Bob Adams presented the actual numbers to the city council and reviewed by the city’s auditor show the city will be out of cash and unable to make payroll by late April. Proceeds from a property tax increase and the sales tax increase will not start coming into the city until January 2015 and not soon enough to meet the current fiscal year financial needs.
The police officers contend they were offered a new contract by former city manager Rick Daniels. However, Daniels never presented any contract to the city council for a vote. It was instead pulled from a council agenda at the request of the POA.
In that contract, Rick Daniels offered the POA an increase in benefits that would have cost the city an additional $450,000 the first year and $900,000 the second year. The city council now knows it never had that kind of money. Since Daniels departure, it was learned that Daniels deceived the city council about the stare of city finances. A report by Urban Futures, a city financial consultant, showed the city had been in deficit spending for the last five years.
Higher Cost for City Police Compared to Sheriff
Last year, 13 officers in the Desert Hot Springs police department received over $200,000 in total compensation that included base pay, pension contribution, health coverage and incentives.
If the officers were to follow through on their threat to force the city into bankruptcy, the city council would have as its only option to disband the police department and contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for public safety.
In a contract with the Riverside County Sheriff, Desert Hot Springs would follow the same plan as used by LaQuinta, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and other cities to have the Sheriff operate out of the city’s police building and patrol in Desert Hot Springs police cars.
Attrition by officers seeking work elsewhere has been a drain on staffing. At present two patrol officers from Desert Hot Springs have applied for work with the Hemet police department. It has been reported that other Desert Hot Springs officers have made applications elsewhere.
Obviously it is difficult if not impossible to recruit new police officers at this time. The savings of $500,000 with the departure of Police Chief Kate Singer and Commander Ken Peary is not enough to solve the city’s financial problems, points confirmed by POA rep Wendell Phillips. It should be noted the city will not actually save all $500,000 of their salary. Both will actually be cashing in their leave and benefits making the savings close to $350,000.
With former Commander Dan Bressler now elevated to police chief this has effectively eliminated two high paying commander positions which are not likely to be filled soon. Creation of less costly lieutenant position is expected.
Although a few police officers may have disciplinary actions on their record inhibiting their hiring by the Riverside Sheriff, it is likely the good officers on the Desert Hot Springs payroll would be hired in a move to go to the Sheriff due to their special knowledge of the city.
Looking At The Alternative
A move to the Sheriff’s would also immediately save the city over $1 million in 911 dispatch costs. The city contracts with Cathedral City for those services. In addition the move to the Sheriff would also likely result in more patrol officers on Desert Hot Springs’ streets. Although 34 officers are allocated, only 16 officers are on patrol duty according to a report by Reza Gostar with The Desert Sun.
Presently when a Desert Hot Springs officer is injured and unable to report for duty, the city operates with one less officer. Injury leaves in the city have lasted up to one year with officers continue to draw a full salary. To cover for the injured the officer, the department incurs additional overtime expense.
Under a contract with the sheriff, an injured officer would simply be replaced by another officer. The city would be contracting with the County for a set number of officers to be on duty. The Sheriff will handle their own dispatch, provide lab and other CSI support freeing up those costs to the city also.
The POA is banking that even with those savings the public would rather have its own police force and that Desert Hot Springs taxpayers will be willing to pay more taxes to keep it. That sentiment was expressed during public comments at recent city council meetings.
In a particularly strong show of support for police officer salaries, for example, Pastor Paul Miller who serves as the city police chaplain said the officers are worth every penny they are paid and should be paid whatever it takes to keep them.
Others residents, however, have taken a public position that the Sheriff will provide better police protection and at a lower cost to the city.
“With two high-ranking officers leaving, wouldn’t this be a good time to negotiate with the Sheriff’s Dept. to take over the department?” said R.J. Howard, a Desert Hot Springs resident. Howard was referring to the departure of Police Chief Kate Singer and Commander Ken Peary, both of whom chose to take retirement last week.
“There are a lot of cops in Palm Desert , Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and La Quinta because that is what the cities pay for. The staffing is not set by the Sheriff, it is set by the city,” said Amy White. “Seems to be pretty comfortable in Palm Desert , Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta and even Coachella these days based on the crime stats. I don’t see stories about their violent crime rates being 250% higher than the national average.”
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.