A tentative increase in the Oro Valley Police Department’s budget this year was a cause for concern for some members of council during a study session last Wednesday at Town Hall.
The police budget, which consumed nearly half the town’s general fund last year, is up an additional 9.2 percent this fiscal year.
Police Chief Danny Sharp said the increase is the result of some long-awaited improvements, including an expansion to the evidence facility room, improvements to information technology, and vehicle replacement.
In light of the new expenses, Councilman Mike Zinkin questioned whether cuts could be made elsewhere, citing the fact that while the population since 2005-2006 has grown two percent, the police budget has increased 36 percent.
“It seems to be out of line with the rest of the departments in the town,” said Zinkin.
Sharp refuted that point by saying that much of the increase is now coming due to the fact the department has deferred necessities in years past due to the recession.
“This budget is as lean as it can possibly be,” he said. “We have to look at what decisions were made that were put off. We knew this would be coming down the road to see that kind of increase.”
Zinkin also questioned what was “magical” about Oro Valley having 2.5 officers for every 1,000 residents.
“Gilbert is 1.06, and Surprise is 1.1, and Yuma is 1.8, and Chandler is 1.3,” Zinkin said before questioning whether the town could effectively reduce its ratio to 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents.
“There’s nothing magical about it,” responded Sharp. “That’s the number we have determined is the appropriate staffing level for the Town of Oro Valley. There is no national standard for this, there’s no state standard, there’s no standard, period. You have to staff based on what the expectations of the community are.”
Another area of contention came when Councilman Bill Garner asked if elimination or reduction of take-home vehicles would reduce department expenses.
That was met with objection from Councilwoman Mary Snider, who argued that statistics show take-home vehicles not only have longer life spans, but also serve a purpose in the event an officer need to be readily equipped for on-call events or sudden emergencies.
Zinkin looked for ways to cut the department’s slated overtime expenses, but Sharp said much of the overtime is required for community events, the School Resource Officer program, and the town’s Police Explorer program, which helps prepare teens for a career in law enforcement.
The expansion of the evidence room will prove one of the most significant department expenditures, slated to cost $350,000. The funding will be used to expand the property and evidence storage, provide a safer working environment, and maintain contemporary forensic storage standards.
Sharp said the department first recognized the need for expansion in 2002, and by 2007, the need had peaked.
“It’s only gotten worse, but because of the downturn in the economy, we found ourselves in a position to make dos… but it’s something we certainly need to address sooner than later,” he said.
From last year’s numbers, an increase of $186,907 is being reserved to replace current vehicles, and a $56,000 increase in set-aside funds for future vehicle replacement. Gas and tire expenses are anticipated to stay flat year over year.
An additional increase in expenditures will come with improvements for information technology as the police department invests in the Pima County Wireless Integrated Network (PCWIN), a countywide cooperative effort to combine emergency services under a single multi-agency communication system. The total increase in IT funding, which includes additional equipment and maintenance expenses, is $323,767.
Travel and training expenses will increase about $55,000 to keep officers up-to-date on the latest laws, current crime trends, and new technology.
For a full presentation on the police department budget, visit www.orovalleyaz.gov.
The town budget is scheduled for tentative adoption on May 1. Final budget adoption is scheduled for May 15.