City depends on increased sales tax to hire more police officers

Published: June 22, 2017

By: Kateleigh Mills, The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Police Department is looking to fill 48 positions through a quarter-cent permanent sales tax this September.

The department has had a hiring freeze for police officers since July 2016. The restriction is set to continue through fiscal year 2018 unless residents pass the tax.

Police Department Capt. Paco Balderrama said the city’s population increase has led to more special events and businesses wanting security.

“There are certain events where they want to hire an off-duty officer to work and sometimes they don’t get it,” Balderrama said. “Something is gonna have to give.”

There are 35 to 50 employees who resign or retire every year from the department. He said the freeze keeps the OCPD from hiring new officers, especially for the patrol division.

The department’s fiscal 2018 budget was cut 3.9 percent from the previous fiscal year for the operating and non-operating expenses. The department’s 2018 budget will allot about $191 million allowing 1,441 total employees.

The budget highlighted a net loss of six positions, some of which were cut from the police patrol program.

Councilman James Greiner said residents will likely approve the quarter-cent sales tax because there is demand for more officers. The one-quarter-cent sales tax was paired with a full-penny sales tax that increased at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Once you start talking about it being permanent, some people might become more skeptical,” Greiner said. “But we don’t want to do a temporary fix when we are talking about hiring employees.”

Councilman Ed Shadid said he doesn’t think the public is excited about passing the full-penny tax. He said residents are more likely to vote on the one-quarter cent than on the penny because it goes towards hiring police officers, firefighters and having street maintenance.

“I feel like people think we deserve a better plan,” Shadid said.

If the quarter-cent sales tax does not pass, Balderrama, Shadid and Greiner said there isn’t a backup plan to pay for more officers.

City Finance Director Craig Freeman said the Police Department added positions from fiscal year 2012 to 2016 because the council prioritized money for those new employees. He said the expected sales tax revenue for the fiscal year that begins in July will be about what was generated in 2014.

“We didn’t want to remove those positions,” Freeman said.

The 2-percent cut for the department in fiscal year 2016 and the 3.1-percent cut in fiscal year 2017 was the first time since the 1980s that there were two consecutive years with cuts, Freeman said.

Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police members are leading a campaign asking residents to vote in favor of the quarter-cent permanent sales tax. If the tax is approved in September, the revenue will be available in January.

The tax is expected to generate about $26 million per year.

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