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Costa Mesa council approves three-year plan to fund Police Department projects

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The Costa Mesa City Council approved a three-year strategy to fund and implement a handful of projects in the Police Department, including the purchase of new vehicles.
(File Photo)

The second time was the charm for a list of sought-after projects in the Costa Mesa Police Department, as the City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a three-year plan to bankroll the efforts.

The 5-0 vote, with council members Sandy Genis and Allan Mansoor absent, allocates $1.125 million this fiscal year to buy five replacement vehicles and upgrade or replace the video systems in the city’s police cars.

The current fiscal year runs through June 30.

In the second and third years of the plan, the city will earmark $230,000 annually to buy 10 more replacement vehicles, $220,000 to create space to store a new mobile command vehicle and $555,000 for police vehicle computers.

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Council members also gave their blessing to a staff proposal to finance the purchase of the mobile command vehicle, which the Police Department could roll out as an adaptable base of operations during emergency and disaster responses or large-scale events. Doing so would cost about $180,000 annually over a 10-year period, according to city estimates.

“We want to make sure that our police officers have the equipment they need so that they can protect the community, they can protect themselves and we can provide good service in our community,” said Mayor Katrina Foley.

The vote followed a dispute that grabbed headlines in May, when Police Chief Rob Sharpnack sent a memo to the council criticizing the proposed 2019-20 budget, which he claimed shortchanged the Police Department in a way that would imperil public safety.

In an email he included with his memo, Sharpnack wrote that he was concerned the budget did not adequately fund the purchase of the MCV or sorely needed replacement vehicles. At the end of the day, those items were not included in the $174-million budget the council adopted in June.

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Afterward, staff from the city finance and police departments worked together to craft the three-year strategy to fund and implement the most critical requests.

“A phased approach will allow the city to address how to pay for these items, as well as set a realistic goal for implementation,” said city Finance Director Kelly Telford.

Council members Tuesday praised the collaborative efforts but said the experience also provides learning opportunities.

“We have some lessons to be learned,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens. “We shouldn’t ever in the future have a situation where we have so many pent-up needs that we’re asking for in one budgetary cycle.”

He also pointed out that preliminary financial figures from the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended June 30, show the Police Department actually underspent its general fund budget by about $1.8 million.

“We can be better about collaborating between the different departments and our relatively new finance director,” Stephens said.

Councilman Manuel Chavez said he thinks the city needs to “have a system where we can see what our needs are and address them in an adequate time.”

Earlier this month, Sharpnack — who had previously announced he planned to retire by the end of the year — filed a claim against the city alleging he is being forced out of his position and that the city “discriminated and retaliated” against him after he complained about the budget process, as well as what he considers the council’s “improper interference into the affairs of the city Police Department.”

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The city has denied those assertions and Foley said this week that she has “no idea” what Sharpnack meant by interference.

Rob Sharpnack has filed a claim dated Nov. 8 that alleges the city “discriminated and retaliated” against him after he complained about the City Council’s “improper interference into the affairs of the city Police Department” and about the budget process earlier this year.

The council also approved plans Tuesday to reconfigure staffing in the information technology and development services departments.

In IT, the city will eliminate two part-time positions — an intern and a programmer analyst — in favor of hiring a full-time network administrator.

A similar switch will take place in development services, where the city will scrap one part-time code enforcement officer position and reclassify two others to full time.

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