Mike Morowit is right.
You can’t expect any progress in improving Manteca’s growing homeless issues unless the City Council commits adequate resources.
It is why the councilman wants the inclusion of not one but two community resource officers for Manteca Police in the upcoming municipal budget that goes into effect July 1.
Community resource officers are typically deployed by cities for targeted enforcements. In some cities, they are dubbed park rangers and are primarily assigned to parks.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion plans to use the community resource officer primarily to deal with homeless issues. In the pecking order of workmen’s compensation, job duties, and such they are on par with booking officers. They are armed and are trained just like those in police officer positons. When needed in a pinch in active felony situations they can augment police officers.
The cost for staffing a community resource officer is $99,320 to cover salary, benefits and payroll costs such as worker’s compensation. That is $40,000 less than a police officer.
The proposed budget — as staff submitted — had funding for just one community resource officer.
This struck Morowit as an ineffective investment of tax dollars for a communitywide problem that he noted virtually everyone that approaches him is concerned about. It involves a lot of issues — crime, quality of life for residents as well as the non-criminal homeless, community health and safety, the ability of city residents and law-abiding homeless to access public facilities such as the Library Park restrooms, and even economic development as the image of panhandling, the homeless pushing shopping carts, and tent encampments along freeways isn’t exactly shouting “come to Manteca to open your business.”
As Morowit noted, the proposed budget would provide the city with a dedicated community resource officer only four days a week working 10-hour shifts that mirror the work schedule of police officers and detectives.
“Homeless issues are seven days a week,” Morowit said.
For want of a better way to describe how the position will function, the community resource officer when it comes to homeless issues will be a quasi-social worker and law enforcement officer. The goal is to get homeless off the street that have any inclination to do so and deal with those that don’t and who commit criminal acts that tend to be misdemeanors.
The city’s proposed general fund budget for next year is $34.5 million. That includes more than $17 million in general fund reserves including $8.67 million in unrestricted reserves or the equivalent of 25 percent of the day-to-day operating budget.
Morowit — with the concurrence of the rest of the council — made it clear at the budget workshop Thursday he wanted to see a second community resource officer funded for $99,320. Staff said in order to balance the budget another position would have to be cut or other positions postponed being filled that are now vacant.
Mayor Steve DeBrum stressed how it was important the city has 25 percent reserves and was on fiscally stable ground. He’ll get no debate on that point. But to sit on $17 million — or more specifically $8.67 million in unrestricted reserves — while the quality of life in Manteca deteriorates defies common sense.
There is no need to cut any positions or to postpone filling any vacant positions. The council simply needs to tell staff to reduce the unrestricted reserves by $99,320 taking it from $8.67 million down to $8.57 million or from 25 percent of the general fund budget down to 24.7 percent of the general fund budget.
This will not cause the financial collapse of the city for a number of reasons but not spending the $99,320 will increase the odds the current homeless status quo won’t improve all that much. There is a huge difference between pressure and presence four days a week versus 365 days a year.
Also when the city had less than a 25 percent reserve during the Great Recession and even less before that — 20 percent in the 1990s — the city didn’t implode financially.
Let’s also be clear about how long it may take to get one or two community resource officers hired.
When the police chief gets the OK it could take at least four months between advertising the position, the application period, initial screening, testing, interviews, background checks and such. That could be sped up if the police department is able to revisit recent applicant pools for police officer positions.
By the time a community resource officer is on the job, the budget impact for next fiscal year will be closer to $66,000 than $99,320.
That additional $66,000 in actual costs for a second community resource position will be offset in part by the $33,320 saved by the time the position already proposed in the budget is filled. There are two other general fund positions that are proposed to be added in next year’s budget that will require new hires. They will take at least three months to fill. Without directing any positions be cut or delayed in being filled, the city will save enough money to cover the cost of a second community resource officer.
This is not based on conjecture but rather how the City of Manteca has operated for at least the last 26 years.
The council needs to listen to the community, be fiscally responsible, and add conservative justified spending that the general fund increase of 5.2 percent over the current annual spending level allows.
Spending just under $100,000 more isn’t going to start the city’s financial collapse by any means.
Not spending it though will more than likely make efforts to address homeless issues in Manteca less effective.