Pearland City Council held a Special Meeting at City Hall Monday (Aug. 17), along with three joint public hearings with the Planning and Zoning Commission. Among the topics discussed were the adoption of a new tax rate and police staffing issues.
Consideration of the proposed budget was added to the meeting agendas of Sept. 14 and Sept. 21. Council also set the required public hearing on the budget for Aug. 31.
Council passed a resolution, with a vote of four to one, to set the tax rate for the next fiscal year to .7053, which is lower than the current rate of .7193. Councilmembers Gary Moore, Derrick Reed, Tony Carbone and Greg Hill were in favor of this new rate; Councilmember Keith Ordeneaux was opposed.
As a result of the lower tax rate, the balance of the General Fund was decreased by $617,000. Council and staff discussed ways to offset expenditures.
City Manager Clay Pearson pointed out that the Streets and Sidewalks budget is a flexible, even though the original idea was to add to that number.
“We can’t add to streets and sidewalks like we wanted to because of the lowered tax rate from what had been projected,” he said. “Our streets are in pretty good shape now, but we need to be investing in a mix of fixes to keep them that way. The sidewalks need some work and have gaps as we are a growing city.”
Director of Finance Claire Bogard proposed an increase in garage sale permit revenue, which would add $36,000 to the General Fund. She also suggested reducing Street Maintenance by $581,000.
Public Works Assistant Director Michael Leech suggested a program that would solely focus on local streets to save money.
If these changes are adopted, any funds in excess of the General Fund balance policy on Sept. 30, after the yearly audit, would be used to replenish the Street Maintenance account.
Pearland Police Chief J.C. Doyle presented proposed departmental changes to Council. He emphasized the creation of a “proactive unit” that would require some re-structuring of the agency, such as moving a Lieutenant from the Crime Investigations Division and a Sergeant from the Person’s Crimes Unit.
The changes would include implementation of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS), which uses location-based crime and accident data to determine the most effective way to use departmental personnel and other resources.
Other needs mentioned were in-car and body-worn cameras, improved radio communications, better fleet maintenance, ongoing training, Animal Services needs and adequate staffing.
Chief Doyle said that he had no problems with the budget as presented. “I didn’t see anything negative that couldn’t be worked through with the proposed budget of four officers and two sergeant position promotions,” he said.
Councilmembers Hill, Carbone, Moore and Reed expressed concern about police department staffing.
“We have 13 guys or less a third of the time spread out among 30 square miles,” said Carbone. “If we have a big incident, it’s not uncommon to see three or four units responding. It’s unacceptable to have such little staffing for such a big city. Houston folks come here just as we go there. I don’t want to fall behind the curve and have to play catch up when it comes to crime rates. We’ve been lucky so far.”
“I agree with Councilmember Carbone,” said Reed. “We just had that Kroger incident. Houston folks are coming down here. We have been lucky, especially at night when there’s more than one unit responding. It’s stretching folks thin. We’re down to budgeting for three officers because Pearland ISD is paying for one. It’s unfathomable to imagine we only need one new officer on the street because the others are promotions.”
Chief Doyle added that there are three officers currently in Field Training and seven more in the academy, expected to graduate in November.
Carbone reiterated that, “Public safety is primary concern of most of Council. The Police Department requested 16 officers last year and eight were funded. We need more officers. Even citizens say that. It’s been a clearly communicated goal for last two years and I can’t understand why this budget only proposes one additional patrol officer.”
Ordeneaux said, ”Everyone would like to see more officers, but how do we pay for it? I haven’t heard any answers. I hear lower the taxes. We turned down several opportunities for funding. How much longer are we going to put things off? We’re cutting one-time expenses and adding re-occurring ones. This will snowball to bigger issues.”
Mayor Reid added, “Law enforcement is changing. People seem to want to come to town and help themselves. There’s a fine veneer between the good guys and the bad guys. We can’t put a gate up. We can’t put enough patrol on street to eradicate crime, but what is proposed should be good enough.”
Because of some confusion about the actual number of officer positions proposed and the promotions to sergeant positions, Chief Doyle explained how officers move up in the department.
“Everyone starts in patrol, which is our manpower pool. Anyone who gets promoted or moved must come up in patrol first. We have 18 officers in A Squad, 17 in B Squad, 18 in C Squad and19 in D Squad. We have recently started looking at the numbers generated by officers instead of software. We are hoping staffing will get us better tools to predict how many officers we will need in the future,” said Doyle.
“I expected that we’d get the other eight officers left over from last year,” said Reed. “Either crime has gone down or something else significant has changed.”
“Any crime is too much crime,” replied Doyle. “I put a lot of stock in DDACTS. We look to our Crime Analyst for help in patrol. We can do things differently that won’t need so much manpower. We need a third party study to tell us what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.”
“The fact is that we are bringing in new additional public safety people and they’ll be filtered in over time,” said Pearson. “We’re making a concerted effort with recruitment to deliver the numbers of positions of what was budgeted. The budget shows that in June 2015 there were 228 police and fire on the payroll, 32 more from the same payroll two years prior.
“We will start to see the benefits of new officers soon. Chief Doyle showed there are seven cadets in the academy and three more in the field training officer program coming on in April. In addition, Fire will be adding on nine full-time fire department personnel.
“We were at 100% staffed for a while in June, which is a first in several years. One person since resigned to go work for the U.S. Marshal’s Office. We had a civilian fill the Quartermaster position when he retired and dedicated an officer working with IT to detectives. We are a lot closer to where we wanted to be now,” Pearson said.
Deputy City Manager Jon Branson explained the costs. “Eight new officers would cost approximately $647,000 more in the budget and would have an impact on equipment and vehicles as well. This year, we heard it loud and clear and included four officers in the budget, which is what we thought was asked for,” he said.
“It’s too late now, unfortunately,” said Ordeneaux. “This is the third year in a row we have looked at health benefits and gone middle of the road. We’ve done well on raises for staff. If we’re not raising the tax rate or cutting spending, we are looking at $1.2 million in total cuts from the proposed budget. I don’t see where the money will come from. We tied our hands when we set the lower tax rate.”
Pearson said that the public safety discussion would continue on Aug. 31, giving staff time to look at the budget numbers again and make new recommendations.
The three public hearing topics were the adoption of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan and two zone change requests. No action may be taken at public hearings, so decisions will be made on these issues at future meetings.
To learn more about the proposed budget, the Comprehensive Plan and future meeting dates, visit PearlandTX.gov.