It’s been reported that the City of San Jose may lay off hundreds of police officers in order to balance the budget. Survey after survey has indicated that public safety is the highest priority for the San Jose citizenry. Given that fact, shouldn’t the city lay off park workers, planners, and Cultural Affairs employees before any one police officer is fired?
Public safety is our highest priority and we spend a majority of our general fund dollars on police and fire. However, it is clear to me from our budget surveys and hearing directly from our residents that public safety is not our only priority. The people believe, and for good reasons, that libraries and community centers are important to our quality of life and contribute to San Jose being one of the country’s safest big cities.
The public safety budget for this year is the same as it was last year ($451 million) but we have fewer officers because the cost per person has climbed dramatically. The budget for the police department has grown by $108 million over the past 10 years but we have fewer officers than we had 10 years ago because the average cost jumped by about 100 percent. The biggest factor in the cost increases has been, and remains, skyrocketing retirement costs, which continue to escalate. Next fiscal year, the retirement costs for police and fire will jump by about $45 million.
Closing more libraries and community centers to pay for those cost increases is not what the community wants to see. The community wants to see fiscal reforms, including concessions from police officers, to control costs in those departments. Right now it looks like we will have layoffs in every department, except maybe those that are paid for by cost recovery fees, like Planning and Building.
A few years back, a number of San Jose City Councilmembers went on a fact finding trip to Chicago where they learned that America’s “Second City” allows for one-fourth of city services to be performed by the private sector. Why can’t San Jose follow Chicago’s example, and put one-fourth of its city services out to bid to the private sector?
We have a Council policy that sets up a difficult and lengthy process to consider contracting out. We went through that process last year to contract out janitorial services and saved about $ 4 million. We are going through it now to consider contracting out for police and fire services at the airport because it appears we could save about $10 million. If our costs per employee continue to grow rapidly, the dollar value of contracting out will increase.
The City of San Jose recently announced that the city’s police helicopter will be grounded in order to save money. But isn’t he police helicopter an important law enforcement tool? Aren’t “eyes in the sky” crucial to officer safety?
The helicopter is important but not quite as important as officers who respond to 911 calls. The Chief plans to ground the chopper on a trial basis to assess the impact on effectiveness and safety.
As you know, the condition of San Jose’s streets and roads are very poor. For many years, street repair and maintenance has been deferred. What plan (if any) does the city have to address the problem? Should San Jose residents expect a parcel tax in their near future?
We are in the 10th year of budget shortfalls and paving streets has not been as important to the community as public safety, libraries, community centers and parks. We have polled on the potential for voter approval of a parcel tax for street maintenance. It would not pass.
Some say that the citizens of San Jose are too apathetic and uninformed. Do you agree with that assessment? What can the average citizen do to help solve some of the city’s problems?
No. San Jose citizens understand and have been very engaged in the need for fiscal reforms to control costs. I think the huge approval for Measures V and W, despite the aggressive and well funded campaign against Measure V by the police and fire unions, proves the point. The average citizen can help by communcating with Councilmembers in person, on the phone or by email whenever a fiscal reform is on the council agenda. Councilmembers would appreciate knowing the public supports fiscal reforms, especially when the Council chambers are packed by the unions in opposition, which is often the case.