Paso police allowed to hire officers again

The Paso Robles Police Department has been authorized to hire four additional officers in an effort to beef up its patrol unit in the wake of the recession.It will be the first time the division has been able to hire officers in four years.

The department, which patrols San Luis Obispo County’s second-largest city with a population of 29,793, has 46 positions for full-time sworn officers, but only 26 were filled in the fall.

“We only got to 41 and then the hiring freeze went into effect,” Paso Robles Police Department Chief Lisa Solomon said. “We have simply not been filling until this point due to budget challenges.”

Because of declining revenue, the city has been following cost-cutting measures in all of its departments, starting with a hiring freeze in November 2008 to avoid layoffs.

The Paso Robles Police Department’s budget is $8.3 million this year — about $2 million less than in 2007.

The cutbacks citywide have led to fewer public services such as janitorial services, roadwork and other contractual maintenance. A teen center and a city pool also closed last summer.

At the Police Department, almost all special programs have been cut as staff was shuffled to fill gaps in the patrol division.

Among the casualties was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program at local schools and responses to non-injury traffic collisions.

But when the department’s number of full-time sworn officers fell to half of what it was allocated for, City Manager Jim App allowed Solomon to hire additional personnel.

“That will give us options to consider how we will deploy those resources,” Solomon said, noting that they will likely go to the patrol division. One officer has been hired so far and has been assigned to patrol.

The salary range for a police officer is between $4,540 and $5,767 per month, according to the city.

In the past three years, the city has reduced spending more than $7 million per year by cutting about 76 positions through attrition and the hiring freeze. The reductions have helped to address the city’s multimillion-dollar deficit because of sluggish revenues from sales tax, property tax and other public fees. Staff also recently postponed salary increases again, this time through 2013 in the latest round of cuts.

The city’s general fund is budgeted for $24 million in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Cynthia Lambert contributed to this report.