The Eureka City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a $30-million budget for the upcoming year that will focus on maintaining services, particularly public safety.
Spending in public safety, which includes the police and fire departments, amounts to $21.3 million. The Eureka Police Department receives $14.2 million while the Humboldt Bay Fire Department receives $7.1 million. Steve Watson, chief of the Eureka Police Department, told the council at a budget study session Monday that his department was mostly seeking the same budget, but with increases in certain areas, such as overtime pay.
The department received an increase of about $25,000 for overtime pay, bringing up the total to about $400,000, according to Watson.
“If you look at this year’s budget to date, we’re well over what our allocated amount was,” Watson said. “And that really is a reflection of the shortages in staffing that we’ve had on the police side.”
The same is true of the dispatch center, which is also understaffed, though Watson said the department has absorbed the cost of those increases through the savings it’s received by having vacant positions.
The department had five vacant dispatch positions and five vacant police officer positions, Watson said. They recently hired two dispatch trainees and will have six cadets going through the police academy in July.
The department could be fully staffed by the end of the year if all goes well, Watson said.
The police department also received an additional $15,000 for signing-on bonuses, bringing the total up to $30,000. The department received an additional $10,000 for supplies for a total of about $30,000, $25,000 to retain an outside attorney for internal personnel investigations and an additional $10,000 for recruiting expenses, bringing that total to $25,000.
That increases promotional materials, such as professionally done videos highlighting different police officers and sections of the department, Watson said.
The department also received $10,000 for a new peer support program for officers, Watson said.
“Ten thousand dollars isn’t a whole lot of money,” Watson said. “But I think that the statement that it makes to the men and women of our department is that the city believes in and cares about them and recognizes that there’s toxic stress in our profession.”
Greg Sparks, Eureka’s city manager, said the “budget focuses on maintaining services, but 2020 will be a critical year” because Measure Q, a half-cent sales tax that helps the city fund public safety, is sunsetting, so that funding gap will need to be addressed.
The city will also need to come up with a sales tax measure that addresses roads, Sparks said. Though a similar measure failed to pass in 2018 by a few percentage points — two-thirds voter approval was needed.
“Certainly the vast majority of the public were in support,” Sparks said. “So we do want to bring that back because we do recognize that our street infrastructure is in poor condition and has been deteriorating for about the last 30 plus years, maybe closer to 40.”
Wendy Howard, Eureka’s finance director, briefly reviewed the city’s share of pension costs for retired employees. The costs for pensions are paid by the employer, the employees and investments that are earned by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a state agency that manages benefits for public employees, retirees and their families.
“The vast majority of the pension costs are covered by the investment PERS earns,” Howard said.
The city has a flat yearly amount that it pays to the agency in monthly installments. That number is increasing because “in earlier decades, the workforce was greater.”
Since the Baby Boomer generation, Howard said the workforce has gone down and fewer people are contributing to the system, driving the costs up.
“It’s going up,” Howard said, “but it’s not going up like a $1 million every year.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.