Marilyn Lopez-Zamora, a Watsonville police officer, documents a crime scene. (Watsonville Police)
WATSONVILLE >> Watsonville city leaders on Tuesday approached a city budget that nearly doubled the Department of Parks and Community Services budget and initiated a revamp of Ramsay Park – but many residents said they were dissatisfied with an 8% increase in the police budget.
The city is expected to adopt the final budget for the next two fiscal years at its June 22nd meeting.
On Tuesday, the council also voted 5-2 to increase its own salary by about $ 29 per month from $ 578 to $ 607. The increase would earn council members an annual pre-tax wage of approximately $ 7,293. Council members Rebecca Garcia and Aurelio Gonzalez voted no. Mayor Jimmy Dutra, Mayor Pro Tempore Ari Parker and councilors Francisco Estrada, Lowell Hurst and Eduardo Montesino voted yes. A second reading for final approval of the raise will take place on June 22nd.
Cindy Czerwin, the city’s director of administrative services, essentially said the budget is getting the city on a path to adding services and reducing a long-term deficit. “A year ago we expected a slump in sales. And that never really happened, ”said Czerwin.
Suggested Budget Highlights:
- The building and operating costs for the parking department are expected to increase from approximately $ 5 million to $ 9 million.
- One position would be added to the parks and community services department, and another position would be added to public works to preserve park buildings, Czerwin said.
- The parks department and community development department, which saw the biggest cuts in 2020, will have the most funds restored, Czerwin said. In surveys and events, most residents stated that they would like more parking services.
- About $ 7.5 million would be used on plans to renovate Ramsay Park to create a new soccer field and dog park. The plans would make the project “ready to be shoveled” for funding applications for the construction. said Czerwin.
- The city’s spending on the General Fund this year was approximately $ 51 million and is estimated to be approximately $ 53 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. A General Fund deficit of approximately $ 1.2 million for fiscal 2023-2024 is expected to halve over the course of the year, according to city officials.
- The Watsonville Police Department budget, including the cost of capital, is projected to increase 8% to approximately $ 23 million.
Czerwin found that more than 25% of the police’s budget includes animal services, an additional mental health association, the Police Athletics League, fuel, utilities, insurance, training, pension liabilities, emergency services and the Caminos Hacia El Éxito youth distraction program.
A graphic shows a suggestion for more money for the Watsonville Parks and Community Services Department. (City of Watsonville)
Watsonville police budget could increase with a proposed budget for fiscal year beginning July 1 (Watsonville City)
At the online meeting on Tuesday, more than a dozen local residents spoke out in favor of cutting the police budget and using this money for park management and other services.
Anissa Balderas, a member of the city’s ad hoc police and social justice committee, proposed a freeze on the employment of the police. “Public safety is not achieved through policing, but by tackling racial and economic inequalities at their roots,” said Balderas. “The police have jobs for which they are not intended. You are not a social worker. The city should invest in long-term care and preventive solutions. “
Councilor Francisco Estrada, who also serves on the ad hoc committee, asked how the committee’s expected recommendations in August could change the funding of the police. City officials said the committee could change the allocation of funds within the police force or make other changes, depending on the approval of the city council.
Another factor in the budget is an increase in the unfunded actuarial liabilities of CalPERS, the pension scheme for government employees. The technical obligations that are not covered relate to employee benefits that exceed the assets of the pension fund.
A graph shows Watsonville’s unfunded actuarial liabilities for city workers in the California public pension system. (City of Watsonville)
It is expected to increase by about $ 900,000 in the fiscal year that begins July 1. “That’s a huge increase,” said Czerwin. “It really takes a little bit of our time from growing and even maintaining some of our operations.”
Become a member of Santa Cruz Local, an independent, community-supported newsroom owned and run by local journalists. Our stories are free and always will be, but we need your support.
Already a member? Support Santa Cruz Local with a unique gift.
Stephen Baxter is the co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. It covers the Santa Cruz County government.