Vallejo uses grant money to hire cops, firefighters

August 11, 2011 5:00:12 PM PDT
The City of Vallejo, which emerged from bankruptcy on Friday, is using $4.7 million in grant money to hire additional police officers and firefighters.

The city will apply the grants -- $735,000 from Kaiser Foundation Hospitals over three years and $332,961 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- to hire two police officers, a sergeant, a police dispatch supervisor, two parking enforcement officers and an abandoned vehicle officer.

The two-year, $3.6 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant will allow the City to pay for nine additional firefighter and paramedic positions and reopen Fire Station 25 at 595 Mini Drive.

Vallejo closed three fire stations between 2008 and 2009 and reduced fire staff from 121 to 67 positions when general fund revenue dropped from $83 million to $65 million.

The City will use the $3.6 million SAFER grant to hire three fire captains, three fire engineers and three firefighters.

Fire Chief Paige Meyer said he plans to hire from the state's displaced firefighters' list. He said he hopes to retain the nine positions when the SAFER grant expires in two years if other firefighters retire or if the grant is extended.

Meyer and City Manager Phil Batchelor informed the Mayor and City Council Tuesday reopening Station 25 will do the most to improve overall response times.

The response was late to 30 percent of the emergency medical services calls in the Station 25 area after that fire station was closed, Meyer said.

Batchelor said Vallejo could not accept the federal stimulus money unless it had a grant to match it.

"We approached Kaiser and asked if they could pay for one police officer for three years," Batchelor said.

The grants from Kaiser and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will fully fund a pilot neighborhood policing program in North Vallejo and a crime suppression unit that will concentrate on quality of life issues including prostitution, drug dealing, illegal medical marijuana establishments and neighborhood blight citywide.

Vallejo plans to buy 20 cameras for $250,000 that will record drug trafficking and prostitution activities. The video will be monitored in patrol cars and at the dispatch center, Batchelor said.

The city's police department once included 155 sworn and unsworn officers. It was reduced to 90 during the austere budget cuts and is now comprised of 127 officers, Batchelor said.

Adding a dispatch supervisor to the Communications Center will reduce employee burnout caused by extended overtime assignments, Batchelor and Police Chief Robert Nichelini said in their report to the City Council.

The Police Department's watch commander and field supervisor were handling supervisory duties during staff reductions. Those responsibilities will now be reassumed by unsworn staff members, Batchelor and Nichelini said.

Batchelor said the two full-time parking enforcement officers are expected to generate at least $100,000 in additional revenue each year.

Batchelor and Meyer were delighted both about Vallejo emerging from bankruptcy and receiving the grants for public safety positions.

"It's been a pleasure being involved with the city and its employees, the City Council and the department heads," Meyer said.

"You can point your finger or kick the dirt, but the city rallied and found a way to make it happen. It's an honor and a thrill to be part of it," Meyer said.

Batchelor noted the irony of Vallejo emerging from bankruptcy after three years just as other cities, California and the federal governments are now struggling with reduced revenue and layoffs.

"We didn't sit around and whine about our finances or wait for a federal bailout, Batchelor said.

"Employee morale has improved. We're pretty optimistic," Batchelor said.

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