Public safety highlighted in budget meeting

Members of the St. George City Council and staff discuss pending budget items in a work session of the council, St. George, Utah, May 15, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Last week the St. George City Council approved a tentative budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The general fund is projected at around $57 million. This week the council reviewed budget requests from some of the city’s department heads, particularly those related to public safety.

The St. George Police Department takes a large part of the general fund, receiving a projected budget of $12.3 million in the coming year.

One of the challenges facing the Police Department is an aged fleet of patrol cars, many of which have over 100,000 miles to them. Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager and head of the city’s support services department, said it’s not uncommon for the mechanics in the city’s fleet division to find at least three problems in an aging vehicle when it’s brought in for work.

We just don’t want cars out there that aren’t dependable,” St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton said.

In order to alleviate the issue and provide police officers with dependable vehicles, the city will enter into a four-year leasing program for 35 new Ford Interceptor SUVs for $376,000.

“We believe it’s a real benefit to have the cars on the road,” City Manager Gary Esplin said.

Funds have also been allocated for the hiring of two new police officers. The police department also currently has three openings it is looking to fill. The police force currently consists of 104 full-time officers.

For various reasons, it is becoming harder to find quality candidates for police officers, Stratton said. Moreover, after the city has invested time and money into training new police officers, they may decide policing isn’t a job they want to pursue or get drawn away to work for other police agencies.

Our biggest challenge is retention,” Stratton said, adding, “… A lot of agencies are having the same problem.”

Some agencies deal with the issue by offering prospective officers incentives or higher pay to join the force, he said.

The city’s pay for police officers mirrors others cities in the state, Esplin said, though he noted that may have to change at some point if more cities begin offering bonuses and better pay.

The next year’s budget for St. George Fire Department is projected at $4.2 million. Budget request items for the Fire Department include a position for a third battalion chief and a new fire engine.

The the new battalion chief would help coordinate training and other matters involving the department’s 70 volunteer firefighters. The city currently employs 41 firefighters, nine of whom are on a part-time basis.

The new fire engine will run $800,000, which Mayor Jon Pike said the city needs. “I think that engine is a priority,” he said.

Though not slated for the next year’s budget, the Fire Department is looking to add a new fire station to help keep up with the city’s continued growth. Possible future sites include the Little Valley and Tonaquint areas.

Related to public safety needs is the continued maintenance of the vehicles used by both the Police and Fire departments, which is overseen by the Support Services Department’s fleet services division. The fleet services division currently maintains the fourth largest vehicle fleet in the state.

Read more: A look inside St. George’s fleet division, ‘Blue Seal’ excellence; STGnews Videocast

Budget item requests related to fleet services include a new 75,000 square-foot fleet facility estimated to run an estimated total of $2.4 million. The new fleet maintenance facility will contain six bays that will be able to accommodate large vehicles and heavy equipment, such as a fire truck or SunTran bus.

Other items

During a presentation from Water Services Department, a study concerning the city’s water needs in “full build-out” scenario was discussed. At full build-out the projected population of the city is estimated to be 160,000.

If we have 160,000 people here, how much water do we need, where will it come from?” Esplin said. “That’s the planning we’re doing.”

Possibilities for future water resources involve preexisting wells the city is unable to draw from due to their high arsenic content. In order to deal with the problem, a potential arsenic treatment plant has been proposed. The treatment plant could cost up to $8 million. The city has commissioned a feasibility study concerning the potential project.

The Electric Theater draws near completion, Leisure Services Director Kent Perkins said. While the city focuses on finishing the exterior of the building, a suggestion was made to allow prospective arts groups finish parts of the interior to their liking and needs as part of rental agreements.

The Electric Theater should see “substantial completion” by the second week in June, Perkins said.

The public hearing on the proposed budget is set for June 4, with final adoption by the City Council set for June 22.


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