After nearly five years, the Paso Robles Police Department will again have an officer assigned full-time to motorcycle traffic enforcement.
But paying for the new officer will add to the estimated $600,000 the city already will take from its reserves to pay for other items in the current 2015-16 fiscal year budget.
City Council members voted 4-1 to fund the new position on Tuesday, with Councilman John Hamon dissenting. The officer will cost the city $62,500 for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016, and $125,000 in subsequent years to cover salary, benefits and equipment maintenance costs, according to a staff report.
In June, the council denied a similar request by police Chief Robert Burton, citing the city’s slow economic recovery. Burton said at the time that the position is a necessary part of the department’s recovery from the recession, which decimated staffing levels from 41 sworn officers in 2007 to 26 officers in 2011 — about 0.86 officers per 1,000 residents.
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The city lost its two traffic officer positions in 2011 but retained its motorcycle fleet.
Department staffing has since grown to 33 full-time officers, a jump to 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents, Burton said.
The city’s general plan calls for 1.4 to 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents — or 42 officers — based on 2010 U.S. census population data.
Next spring’s fiscal forecast estimated a general fund surplus of about $483,000, according to a city staff report. That surplus has been negated by the approval of over $1 million for such expenses as emergency storm drain maintenance ($388,000); additional risk and liability payments ($250,000); and ongoing costs associated with the Centennial Pool ($246,000).
With the new position, the city will need to dip into its reserve accounts by a total of about $673,500 to pay for all approved appropriations, City Manager Jim App said.
After the June vote, Burton said restoring traffic enforcement is a top priority for the department. In 2007, the department arrested 677 DUI drivers. In 2011, that dropped to 208 DUI drivers; last year, the number rose to 471 DUI drivers, according to department data.
Traffic accidents have decreased since 2007, when the city recorded 323 accidents. They hit a 10-year low in 2011 and then rose steadily to 266 accidents last year.
There was one traffic fatality in 2010, none in 2011 and three reported in 2014. Last year, 98 injuries were reported in traffic accidents in Paso Robles.
Burton said that without full-time traffic officers, patrol officers are forced to leave the scene of an accident if they receive a criminal report.