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Grant would help city hire three police officers

Posted: Friday, Jan 10th, 2014




WATSONVILLE — A $375,000 grant awarded to the city for the purpose of hiring more police officers will be considered by the Watsonville City Council Tuesday.

The grant would go toward the salaries of three new police officers; however, it is contingent on the passing of a proposed public safety tax measure, which may find its way on the June ballot.

The COPS Hiring Program, run by the U.S. Department of Justice, provides funding to law enforcement agencies to hire and rehire law enforcement officers. In April, the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) office sent a letter to the nation’s law enforcement community inviting them to apply for the grant.

Out of 1,718 agencies that applied, only 266 were accepted, with the City of Watsonville being one of them, according to Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano.

The three-year grant would amount to 38 percent of the new officers’ salaries, and the city would have to fund the other 62 percent, which is currently not possible without the tax measure passing, Solano said.

On May 28, the City Council approved an agreement with consulting firm TBWB Strategies to explore public support for the tax measure.

During those discussions, Administrative Services Director Ezequiel Vega told the Council that a 1/4-cent sales tax increase would result in about $1.4 million of new revenue to the city, or a 1/2-cent increase would amount to $2.8 million annually.

The intention is to use those funds toward public safety and hire more staff. Solano said it will not go toward pensions or salary increases.

“We’re very hopeful we can get this on the June ballot,” he said. “It will give some much-needed relief for police and fire services.”

If the tax measure is passed and the grant is accepted, the Watsonville Police Department would be able to increase the number of its police officers from 68 to 71.

This would be a major improvement for the department, Solano said, adding that he would be able to fully staff gang and drug prevention units, for example.

“I’d love to have staff to be able to put into these special assignments and have quicker response times,” he said.

“Four or five” more officers could be hired with the tax measure, Solano said.

The average salary for a police officer is $100,000, according to Solano.

Surveying for the tax measure is complete, and the results will be brought to the City Council on Jan. 28.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council will consider approving a $380,000 grant from a gang prevention program known as CalGRIP.

The Watsonville Youth City Council will give a presentation. In addition, proponents of the city charter amendments that would change the way the mayor is selected say they will give an update on their efforts to put the issues on a future ballot.

•••

The Watsonville City Council will meet Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 275 Main St., fourth floor. The agenda can be found at tinyurl.com/kxgxtjx.

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