Should the city support arts and culture? Or the police department? Does it have to be either or?
Not according to Walnut Creek Police Chief Joel Bryden.
I spoke with him Monday morning, and I mentioned one of the debates raging on this blog with regard to the city’s proposed budget for 2010-12, which the City Council will begin working on Tuesday night. The debate has to do with the impression that city staff is not making the police department and public safety more of a priority in these very tough economic times. Some readers believe that funding for the Arts, Recreation and Community Services should take more of a hit. The thinking here is that when times are tough arts and recreation programs are expendable.
“Stick to the basics that cities have to proivde like cops, streets, keeping the parks clean etc.,” wrote one reader. “Let private groups step up for the arts and recreation stuff. Since so few people use those services regularly they should be willing to volunteer or pay extra.”
Bryden believes that public safety is the No. 1 priority in the city.
In budget documents prepared for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the police department proposes that two police officer positions be changed to a per diem basis starting in 2011 and that one position for watch commander/lieutenant and one for a police officer be unfunded. The department could also save money by reducing overtime and retire one police car, and that the city earn additional revenues by operating a tow yard.
“We told them what we could afford to lose while keeping the city safe and maintain the level of service that we have now,” Bryden said.
--The police department budget could be cut by 2 percent in the coming fiscal year, public services by 2 percent, and arts, recreation and community services by 6 percent. The biggest hit—of 24 percent—is to general government. In 2011-12, expenditures for police and public services could increase slightly, funding for arts and recreation will go down 2 percent. Again, the biggest hit (47 percent) would be to general government.
--In terms of which department in Walnut Creek will likely get the biggest piece of the budget pie in 2010-12, that would be the police department: 35 percent. Arts, Recreation and Community Services would get 20 percent.