Debate over downtown police presence could imperil SLO budget

Divided panel tasked with deciding whether to hire 1 or 2 officers to patrol downtown

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJune 14, 2013 

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Monday will be tasked with adopting the city’s two-year budget, but concerns continue to mount that the divided four-person council will fail to do so.

The council has been unable to find compromise on one key issue: the number of police officers that should be dedicated to downtown.

Councilman Dan Carpenter and Councilwoman Kathy Smith want two new uniformed officers patrolling the area. But Mayor Jan Marx and Councilman John Ashbaugh have been steadfast in their support for police Chief Steve Gesell’s plan to add just one.

Gesell will present several options Monday night to help reach a consensus. However, each option will come with a price tag of more than $100,000.

If the council does not pass the budget, a contingency plan is in place that would allow the city to keep operating until a fifth council member can be seated in July.

The council will have one more chance on June 25 to discuss the budget if needed. If that fails, a continuing resolution must be approved in order to keep the city operating under its current budget until a new one is passed.

City Manager Katie Lichtig said the city has never been in a situation where the budget didn’t pass.

“I am firmly committed to doing everything I can to pass a budget,” Marx said. “I have confidence we can do it; there just may have to be some compromise to craft something we can all agree to.”

The 2013-2015 budget, projected at $111.3 million the first year, is in stark contrast from the budget struggles the city confronted two years ago.

One significant change is the amount of money the city plans to dedicate to capital improvements such as road repairs, buildings and technology.

That number will grow to $21 million from the $5.8 million allotted in the 2012-13 budget. Included in that plan is a $1.2 million skate park. The skate park, more than a decade in the making, is set to open in January 2015.

Some of the highlights proposed for the $57.4 million general fund budget include an additional park ranger, extended hours for public restrooms downtown, significant improvements to bike pathways, and more police staff.

In 2011, the city confronted a $4.4 million shortfall in its general fund and ultimately made $1.8 million in operating cuts and more than $3 million in cuts to employee compensation.
Lichtig said cuts, prudent spending and a recovering economy have kept the city in the black.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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