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Council Adds 4 Officers to Proposed Budget


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By Jorge Casuso

May 31, 2024 -- After nearly two hours of discussing options and budget trade-offs, the City Council early Wednesday morning voted to add four police officers to the proposed $763.5 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Spearheaded by Mayor Phil Brock, the increase would bring the budgeted force to 232 officers in the fiscal year starting July 1, although it will likely be difficult to fill all the positions in one year.

Ten officers have retired over the past month, leaving 16 positions vacant, and there is stiff competition from the Los Angeles Police Department for new hires, Police Chief Ramon Batista told the Council.

Before voting for the staffing increase, the Council debated ways to pay for the officers -- deciding to trim back facilities maintenance and scrap alley paving, while still managing to replace 60 security cameras.

Councilmember Caroline Torosis asked the Chief if he would "like four officers or CCTV (security) cameras," which may be needed to communicate with the Department's new real time crime center.

"We need both," Batista responded.

Councilmember Jesse Zwick proposed to budget for two new officers for the fiscal year starting July 1 and another two for the following fiscal year.

"Should we defer maintenance in order to have the authority to hire officers we won't be able to hire within the time frame?" Zwick asked.

"I'm not sure it's the right time, even though I would like to see the force grow," he said.

Councilmember Gleam Davis agreed. "Allocating money for people we can't hire is just a message," she said.

Zwick's proposal to delay budgeting for two of the officers was quickly rejected by members of the Council's Change faction.

"I believe we need more than four officers," said Brock.

Councilmember Christine Parra agreed. "Our Police Department needs more," she said. "I think it's very important to give them four this year, four next year and four the following year.

"We can't continue to recover and grow when businesses don't feel safe," Parra said.

The Council is hoping measure CS -- which boosted the City's bed tax -- will help pay for the additional officers and that the current vacancies will provide money to boost recruitment.

Chief Batista noted that despite the recruiting challenges, the Department has hired 55 new officers over the past two years.

The four new officers approved were the major addition to the proposed $763.5 million budget for FY 2024-25, of which $462.5 million is in the General Fund used to pay for the City's operation.

The budget establishes 23 new fees and revises 36 existing fees, while eliminating three fees, including library and EV user fees.

According to staff's report to the Council, the General Fund total non-restricted reserves are half of what they were on June 30, 2019.

"Since 2020, demands on reserves have been impacted by a severe loss of revenues as a result of the pandemic (estimated at $170 million through June 30, 2023), and legal settlement payments," staff wrote.

Finance officials warn that the local economy is still struggling to fully recover from the economic shutdown.

"Santa Monica’s fourth quarter 2024 sales receipts were down 11.4% from a year earlier as consumer spending shifts to household essentials and away from luxuries," staff wrote.

"International tourism and business travel continue to lag behind pre-pandemic levels, and slow growth is anticipated for 2024 before recovering in 2025."

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