Huntington Beach adopts $381.2-million budget, with large chunk dedicated to public safety

Huntington Beach Police Officer Bobby Frahm watches as Levi Bonjean gets a look at Frahm’s motorcycle. The City Council on Monday adopted the city’s 2019-20 budget, in which 55% of the general fund is dedicated to public safety.
(File Photo)

A new budget the Huntington Beach City Council adopted Monday night puts a priority on public safety.

The $381.2-million plan for fiscal 2019-20, which begins July 1, is 2% higher than the current budget, in line with projected revenue growth, which is forecast to be stagnant in key areas such as sales taxes.

The general fund — the portion of the budget that pays for a majority of city services — will total $231.8 million, a 1.5% increase over the current fiscal year.

About $127.9 million — or 55% — of the general fund is dedicated to public safety in the new budget. Some of that will go toward the Fire Department’s Junior Lifeguard program, replacing aging equipment and improving the Police Department’s 50-year-old headquarters, which has been plagued by decaying plumbing, an overloaded electrical system, poor ventilation and a collapsing ceiling in the men’s locker room.

Much of the council’s debate Monday focused on Police Chief Robert Handy’s succession plan, including bumping the number of funded lieutenant positions from eight to nine.

Councilman Mike Posey proposed a substitute motion to adopt the budget minus the ninth lieutenant position. The council voted 5-2 to support Posey’s motion. Mayor Erik Peterson and Mayor Pro Tem Lyn Semeta dissented.

In November, Posey tried delaying Handy’s request to create a new assistant chief position until this budget season, citing financial reasons. That position is now filled by Kelly Rodriguez.

“I asked you to wait for this budget cycle to create the position,” Posey told Handy. “We didn’t wait. We created it ahead of this budget process by defunding a lieutenant position with the implied promise that the lieutenant’s position be re-funded.”

Semeta said the additional lieutenant position shouldn’t come as a surprise and that she hoped the council would keep its word.

Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize said she was disappointed that the lieutenant position wasn’t filled in order to create the assistant chief job.

Handy’s request in November for an assistant chief came after an independent consulting firm recommended creating a second-in-command position to “improve departmental operational efficiency” and establish a “ladder of succession planning.”

Handy said Monday that rank-and-file positions have been recovering from recession-related cuts but management positions are still lacking.

According to Handy, the council signed off in closed session on an agreement in which the Police Department would fill the lieutenant position during this budget process and wouldn’t add unfunded positions until that was achieved.

Handy said that to have a high-performing Police Department, it is imperative to have enough managers.

Peterson agreed, saying bolstering leadership would benefit a department that was “a little torn” in the past few years. Mounting tensions between Handy and the city’s police unions in 2017 prompted city officials to hire a consultant to gather employee perspectives on the department’s strengths and limitations. The year included a no-confidence vote against Handy by the Huntington Beach Police Officers’ Assn. and a call for a new chief by the Huntington Beach Police Management Assn., which represents captains and lieutenants.

“We can’t hire other officers unless we hire this,” Peterson said, referring to the ninth lieutenant. “It’s something we desperately need. I know we’re short in other things, but that’s one thing we need to be doing.”

Councilwoman Jill Hardy said she was torn between arguments by her colleagues.

“If this position was being proposed with additional police officers, then it would make sense,” Hardy said.

Councilwoman Kim Carr took issue with “expensive management positions” and said the city doesn’t have the money to “justify the expense.”

According to Huntington Beach’s 2017 salary data, lieutenants earned $146,000 to $162,000 annually.

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