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Tuesday, May 20 2014 04:20 PM

More police, new fire engines up for council talk

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The Bakersfield Police Department was called out after someone discovered a deceased person near the railroad tracks in this file photo. The Bakersfield City Council will consider hiring more officers.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Plans to hire five more police officers, replace two fire engines and spend up to $1 million implementing results of a study of the Bakersfield Police Department will be among items the Bakersfield City Council will consider at its meeting Wednesday night.

It's all part of Bakersfield's proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, which the council discusses during workshops in May and June. It must approve the budget by July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

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The Bakersfield City Council meets at 2 p.m. Wednesday to take public statements on items on the closed-session agenda before going into closed session. Its regular meeting resumes at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall, 1501 Truxtun Ave. Meetings also may be viewed live on cable channel KGOV. Past meetings can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/qfatap5.

Wednesday's workshop will focus on proposed budgets for the city police and fire departments, with a separate report on the public works department budget.

The new proposed budget is more than $621.6 million -- technically 12 percent smaller than last year's budget of more than $707 million.

Among its recommendations is hiring five more police officers -- two detectives and three senior police officers at a combined cost of $685,696. This would increase BPD's sworn complement from 389, its most ever, to 394, another record.

That's still five fewer sworn officers than the 399 the council contemplated during last year's budget talks.

City officials also have proposed setting aside $1 million to carry out any recommendations from a BPD study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

City Manager Alan Tandy and Police Chief Greg Williamson asked for the study, hoping it could offer suggestions on lowering call response times, dealing with rising crime and increasing the force.

"They're continuing their analysis, they're reviewing a lot of data, they've made two trips to town and we're looking forward to getting their final report," Tandy said in a recent interview, characterizing the IACP report as being more than a month away. "I'm optimistic about where it will lead, so I think it's going to be a useful tool."

BPD has struggled to find and train qualified candidates fast enough to offset officers retiring or leaving the force.

"Our complement is 389 and then we've got 40 in the academy. Then, we've had a few leave, so we're within about five of that," Williamson said Monday, explaining the department now fields about 344 sworn officers.

The council will also hear about the Bakersfield Fire Department's new budget, which is only about 1 percent larger than last year's budget -- due primarily to increases in health insurance and pension costs.

Fire Chief Douglas Greener said the department also wants to replace Fire Engines No. 5 and 6, both at stations in the southeast, and purchase replacement hydraulic rescue tools at a combined cost of about $1.1 million.

The public works department also will reveal its budget, which is about 2.4 percent smaller than last year's budget -- but includes the Thomas Roads Improvement Program of major highway projects.

TRIP expects to extend Westside Parkway west to Stockdale Highway later this year, and begin building the Hosking Avenue-Highway 99 interchange during the next 14 months.

Before its regular meeting, the council will hold a special closed session meeting at 2 p.m.

It will convene more than an hour before its usual time so City Attorney Ginny Gennaro can brief the council on several cases of ongoing and potential litigation.

Two cases are listed simply as "Initiation of Litigation ... (two potential issues)."

Asked whether one issue might be the California High-Speed Rail Authority's newly adopted Fresno-to-Bakersfield alignment, Gennaro said, "I think that that's probably a good assumption."

The bullet train tracks would bisect portions of city facilities including Mill Creek, the parking lot of the McMurtrey Aquatic Center, and the Municipal Services Corporation Yard.

Downtown Business Association officials visited the council last summer to show support for a downtown bullet train station, but the city's support of the current alignment has been cooling for years.

At a two-day CHSRA meeting July 20 and July 21, 1999, then-Mayor Bob Price testified in support of bringing the train downtown, and said he believed downtown locations were key to the success of high-speed rail, according to minutes from the meeting.

Earlier this month, however, Tandy described a change in the city's position.

"It was carried in our goals for many years as a support position. It was after the authority got funding and they started to meet with us, and they started to disregard virtually everything we advised them to do or not to do, that eventually the support turned into authorization to file" litigation, Tandy said.

In October 2012, the council directed the city attorney to hire outside counsel to sue the CHSRA.

"Nothing was filed as a result of the council action in October 2012 primarily because there wasn't anything to file on," Gennaro said, noting the CHSRA didn't certify its final EIR until May 7.

The council will also get an update on the city's "validation" case in Kern County Superior Court.

In the case, it has asked a judge to validate plans to borrow $240 million to match $630 million in federal earmarks secured for major highway projects by former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

City attorneys asked a Superior Court judge to rule whether city utility surcharge revenue, gas tax funds and transportation development funds would be "valid" sources from which to repay the money.

Earlier this year, however, attorneys for the Westpark Homeowners Association of residents whose houses are in the path of Centennial Corridor sued the city, accusing it of "willful misconduct by a public agency in violation of public trust and public policy," and creating an "unusual and unsustainable debt risk."

In a press release Monday, Marc Caputo of WHOA offered to settle the group's lawsuit if the city puts "the funding of Centennial Corridor Project" on the ballot.

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