Daly City moved a step closer to outsourcing its police dispatch service and eliminating a fire engine company last week.
The City Council voted 3-2 Monday to direct City Manager Pat Martel to proceed with crafting a budget for the next two years that includes outsourcing police dispatch services to San Mateo County and disbanding one fire engine company.
Mayor Sal Torres, along with council members Mike Guingona and Judith Christensen, voted in favor of the proposed budget, while Vice Mayor David Canepa and Councilmember Ray Buenaventura were the dissenting votes. The Council’s final vote on adopting the new budget is scheduled for June 27.
The proposed changes at the police and fire departments are part of a larger belt-tightening effort that has led to service or staff reductions in almost every city agency, and is designed to address the town’s ongoing structural budget deficit.
Under the proposals, Daly City would close its police dispatch department. The town’s current dispatchers would be virtually guaranteed jobs at San Mateo County’s communications center in Redwood City, which would take over police dispatch services for the town. The county’s call center already handles Daly City’s fire and medical 911 calls.
Daly City would also disband one of its fire engine companies under the new budget. No firefighters would be laid off, but Fire Station 95 would lose its engine company. The station would retain its ladder truck, and would continue to provide fire and emergency medical services. But without Engine 95, the firefighters would have to rely on other North County Fire Authority stations to provide engines that carry and pump water.
Teamsters Local 856 Principal Officer Peter Finn, who represents the police dispatchers, condemned the City Council’s decision and implied the decision has become politically motivated.
“Unfortunately, Mike Guingona and the other two members of the City Council that voted in favor of outsourcing do not think independently,” Finn claimed. “They have consistently done whatever [City Manager] Pat Martel has told them to do.”
Torres insisted the council members arrived at their own decisions.
“This wasn’t just the city manager’s assessment — this was my assessment,” the mayor said.
Finn, Canepa and some residents have suggested a new parcel tax could provide the necessary funds to avoid cutting or changing public safety services. But Martel said it would be almost impossible to adequately research and write such legislation in time to place it on the November ballot, a claim with which Torres agreed.
“How much are we going to ask residents to tax themselves?” Torres asked. “Nobody could come up with an answer, because we haven’t done the research.”
Such a parcel tax would require a two-thirds supermajority to pass, and Torres claimed doing a rush job would ensure failure, because voters would not support a tax hike that “reads like it wasn’t well thought-out.”
Canepa, however, said a similar public safety tax recently enacted in Berkeley could be used as a template for a Daly City measure, thus enabling officials to complete the process in time to place the tax on the November ballot.
“These are Draconian cuts, and they will affect how Daly City delivers services,” Canepa said. “The time to put something on the ballot is right now. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Labor representatives and activists opposed to the police and fire cuts have lobbed numerous accusations at Martel.
Finn and others have claimed Daly City’s deficit is fiction, invented by Martel to justify dispatcher outsourcing and other arrangements she supports. Martel’s detractors cite a budget surplus of almost $8 million in the town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the period ending June 30, 2015.
Martel said those claims stem from misunderstandings of the relevant financial documents. And because the surplus in question came from sources such as redevelopment monies and the state Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund, Martel said it’s a one-time surplus, which cannot be used to plan an ongoing budget.
“Peter Finn took a page out of a financial report from a year ago — not today — and said we had $8 million,” Martel noted. “It was a one-time surplus. How can you budget with that?”