Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 17
Changing of the guardBudget cuts leave Buellton's police station one officer down, and open only two days a week
BY AMY ASMAN
A Sun writer and photographer toured the Buellton police station on a recent Monday afternoon. Four days later, on Thursday evening, one of the officers interviewed had lost her job and the station had its hours cut by more than half.
On June 28, the Buellton City Council voted 4-1, with Councilmember Judith Dale dissenting, to contract once again with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for approximately $1.6 million to provide public safety services. As part of the vote, the council eliminated the city’s community resources officer, a position held for almost four years by Senior Deputy Kathi LeGault. The council also voted to decrease the number of days the station is open to the public from five to two.
The decision was actually a positive one—for the public, at least—considering the council discussed closing the facility altogether at its June 14 meeting.
“The fact that they were thinking of closing their police station was amazing to me,” McVay told the Sun in that Monday interview. “I haven’t seen a city be successful at it yet.”
But McVay said he understands the position the council is in. He said the question came down to, “Where can we cut?”
“There’s a certain level of safety that we can’t go below—just for ourselves as officers,” he explained. “I can’t have a deputy out there by themselves without backup. That’s just crazy.”
Under the current contract, Buellton is guaranteed at least one deputy on duty at all times. That position is shared by almost five people. The city splits the cost of a supervisor, a senior deputy supervisor, a detective, and a manager, who acts as police chief. The city of Solvang and the county foot the rest of the bill.
The Buellton substation also has one traffic officer, a community resources officer, and an office administrator.
When the councilmembers asked McVay where they could cut, he recommended the latter three.
“I had to be honest,” he said, adding that it pained him to make any cuts at all.
Then it came down to which positions the city needed most.
“If it were Solvang, I’d say the community resources officer because it’s a tourist town. In Buellton, the greatest concern is traffic,” he said.
The community resources officer—in Buellton’s case, LeGault—is the face of the police station in schools, at living centers, and at community events, where she provides security and education services. She also responds to police calls as needed.
“Prevention is critical,” McVay said, adding that it unfortunately tends to be the first thing on the chopping block when funds are tight.
During the public comment period of the City Council meeting on June 28, McVay acknowledged the price the city has to pay for his department’s services.
“A contractor takes up 50 percent of the general fund,” he said. “But regardless of what happens, the deputies working with the police department will continue to give the city the best services possible.”
Councilmember Dale said she was happy with the safety personnel on staff, but questioned why the city of Buellton spends the most per capita on public safety in the county.
“One thing I heard from the public is ‘get rid of the motorcycle [officer].’ And I think it’s that people don’t want to get a ticket. I don’t think it’s personal,” Dale said. “I love our law enforcement people, but we’ve got to save some money. We’re paying too much for law enforcement.”
In response, Councilmember Ed Andrisek said, “When it comes down to it, what does a city do? It’s supposed to offer water services, sewage, and have streets with lights—and then there’s public safety.”
He said there are many other departments from which the city could cut.
“I’d rather see us close down some public facilities rather than hamper public safety,” he said. “If we’ve got to cut back, we need to do a lot more than shut down public safety. I feel like we’re haggling over $150,000.”
On days when the office is closed, Buellton residents wanting to pay court processing fees or traffic fines will have to drive to Lompoc.
“Making these cuts is going to leave a hole in our community,” Mayor Holly Sierra said. “That’s a big enough hit for this town.”
After the meeting, Lt. McVay told the Sun in an e-mail that his department will do its best to adjust.
“The decision was a split between the best case scenario of keeping all three positions intact and losing all three completely. We will be going through some adjustment in the next couple of weeks to determine the best way to serve the public with the remaining resources,” McVay said.
“As far as Kathi is concerned, I am unsure at this point. It will be an option period for her that takes into account her seniority on the department, available open positions, and current budgeted positions within the department’s budget for the county,” he said.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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