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More work in store for fire, police

POSTED July 19, 2013 9:06 p.m.

The city of Turlock’s current budget means vacancies at the police and fire departments will remain empty for the foreseeable time, but both agency chiefs are hopeful an allocation for overtime spending will bolster staffing levels and maintain public safety standards.

“We’re going to do the best we can with what we have,” said Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson. “Our goal is that no one will notice a change in service.”

Over the last two years the Turlock Police Department has lost eight officers and two non-sworn positions and the Turlock Fire Department has lost six firefighters and three other positions — all through attrition.

The Turlock City Council adopted a general fund budget that didn’t allocate any additional funds to fill the public safety vacancies, but did augment the department’s budgets with an additional $370,000 to fund overtime expense.

“Strategically, it’s cheaper to go forward and pay the overtime than it is to fund the positions,” Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman said. “We just don’t know how long we can continue to do that.”

Of the $370,000, about $211,000 will go to the police department and about $159,000 will go to the fire department. The police department is also receiving $83,000 from the state to be spent on prison realignment issues.

Jackson said the police department will use the overtime funds for pre-determined uses. For example, the department has had to dismantle the staffing for the Criminal Apprehension and Gang Enforcement unit because it needs those officers on patrol to maintain staffing levels. The C.A.G.E. unit is keeping the assigned sergeant and with the overtime money, the department will fund officers signing up to work specific shifts with the C.A.G.E. unit.

“It will be an efficient use of the money because it will be for such a specific purpose and not just an extra shift,” Jackson said.

The fire department has already been using some of the overtime funds to pay for a third position at Fire Station 3, which had been forced to reduce to a two-man team.

While the overtime funding will help keep officers and firefighters on the job, there is a concern both chiefs share regarding organizational fatigue.

It will be mandatory to take an overtime shift, not voluntary.

“There is the idea that everyone is going to want the overtime for the additional money,” Jackson said. “But days off are just as important.”

“There is a concern that we could see some burnout,” Lohman said. “We are going to be watching for fatigue and managing it as it comes up.”

The two departments are also saving money by combining some of their resources like arson and background investigators and the public information officer.

“Through challenges, innovative ideas have come forward,” Lohman said.

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