San Carlos police escape staff reductions ­— for now

The Police Department appears to have survived sweeping cuts to city programs and services, but officers may very well be yanked from the force in coming years, city officials said.

On Tuesday, the City Council opted to spare five police positions worth more than $800,000 as it grapples with a $2.7 million deficit. Positions for three police officers, a detective and commander faced the chopping block, city officials said.

A slumping economy with no apparent end prompted the city’s call for 15 percent cuts to all departments. The police department caught a break because it had endured cuts over the last several years and it was time to refocus reduction measures on parks and recreation, city officials said.

“Police, fire and parks and recreation account for 69 percent of the general fund budget,” said Brian Moura, assistant city manager. “If you don’t cut police, you have to go to parks and recreation.”

Police Chief Greg Rothaus says his department has lost five staff members since 2005. Moura said in the last two years, police funding has been reduced by 7 percent.

“The City Council really wanted to protect public safety in this budget, and that was evident in the decisions they made,” Rothaus said. “Right now, cuts to any departments, including police, are extremely impactful.”

Rothaus will retain personnel next year but said that, “without additional revenue, everything will be [up for cuts again], including police.”

This is the fifth year in a row the city has had to make significant reductions. The city is projecting another five years of cuts, Moura said.

On Tuesday, City Manager Mark Weiss recommended slashing more than 30 various expenses — mainly within the parks and recreation and administrative realms. Only two were spared: the Special Needs and Healthy Cities Tutoring programs.

“It’s definitely reaffirming to have that vote of confidence for the program and to see it continue next year,” said Donna Becht, Healthy Cities program coordinator. “It was very exciting to have so many people speaking on our behalf.”

Becht, however, acknowledges the program — which consists of 200 children and nearly 200 tutors — will likely face the ax again the next time cuts are proposed. She said she was working on fetching more private donations and grants so the program would become more sustainable.

maldax@examiner.com

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