Local News

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 10:45 PM

City OKs budget to add police, improve parks

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Bakersfield police investigate a shooting on the 4300 block of Milo Ave in southwest Bakersfield lasgt Wednesday. The proposed city budget, which would add 10 sworn BPD officers and make it the biggest department in its history.

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    Michael Fagans / The Californian Bakersfield Police Department officers investigate the scene of an officer involved shooting along Miller Street just north of Monterey Street early Tuesday evening.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield City Council on Wednesday approved expanding the police department by 10 sworn officers -- increasing the force to 389, the highest level in history -- as part of the 2013-2014 budget.

Also approved as part of the $411 million financial plan were a combination championship soccer and football playing field at the State Farm Sports Village Soccer Complex, new softball fields at Mesa Marin Sports Complex, a final design for the controversial Centennial Corridor, median improvements in east Bakersfield, and funding for Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra and Beale Park band concerts.

Expanding the Bakersfield Police Department, in response to an 18 percent rise in crime citywide during 2012, was the most hotly debated item on the budget, particularly after Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson called for a second group of 10 sworn officers to be added.

The council decided at its June 5 meeting to only add 10 sworn officers -- not 20, which would have increased the police force to 399 -- and to revisit the issue during a mid-Fiscal Year budget review in late 2013. Bakersfield police Chief Greg Williamson said Wednesday that his department, which has been budgeted for 379 sworn officers -- but, due to retirements and attrition has just 338 sworn officers currently on the street -- will need the better part of a year to reach 389.

"We just had 26 officers graduate from the academy, so they'll go through their field training and they'll be done in mid-October," Williamson said after the budget vote. "July 15, we're starting another academy. I think, right now, we're planning on 33 (officers) in there." Williamson said his plan is to hold a third police academy in the spring of 2014, to bring the department up to its full complement.

"I really wanted an additional 10 officers," Johnson said in a conversation after the meeting. "I'm looking forward to the mid-year budget review, because then we may have a chance to add more officers."

Bakersfield's new fiscal year begins July 1.

Elsewhere in the budget, the council approved spending $3.5 million on a new Sports Complex field that can be converted to host either soccer or football championship games, and $1.8 million on two new soccer fields, new playground equipment, and a dog park at Mesa Marin. Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan said the park improvements send a message that physical fitness is important in Bakersfield.

"We put a strong emphasis on recreation, which is very important -- keeping fit, and competition, camaraderie," Sullivan said after the meeting. "We can always have more police, but again, having family recreation, encouraging activities in our parks, really perhaps even helps to avoid crime."

The new budget also includes $32,000 for Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, and $5,000 for the venerable Beale Park band, although Johnson expressed concern that the 107-year-old band does not have its own identification number for tax purposes and does not have nonprofit status.

"We were told the symphony was the fiscal agent for the band," Johnson said during discussion of the budget. "That clouds this whole thing for me. I realize there's a long history with the city." Sullivan was quick to defend the band.

"They have worked this out for years. I'm not at all concerned how they've been handling their donations," Sullivan said. Vice Mayor Ken Weir proposed a compromise.

"Is it possible that we could just combine the whole amount and give it to the Symphony and let them know that our intention is for that money to go to the Beale Park band?" Weir asked. Johnson accepted.

The budget also included $2.9 million to pay for the final design of the Centennial Corridor freeway, which is anticipated to take place in spring 2014; and $515,565 for median improvements on Mt. Vernon Avenue from Columbus Street to University Avenue in east Bakersfield.

The council voted 4 to 0 to approve the budget, with Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith and Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson absent, and Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera -- newly sworn in at the meeting -- abstaining because he had not been part of the original budget discussion.

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