SEASIDE - Seaside voters are being asked in the May 18 election to consider a five-year, $725,000 bond measure to pay for a police officer and seven police vehicles.
The measure asks voters to allow the city to spend $145,000 a year for five years beginning in 2010. The cost would add an estimated 15 cents per $1,000 assessed value to a property. That would mean $30 on a property assessed at $200,000.
Of the $725,000, about $395,000 would pay the salary and benefits of a police officer for five years. The City Council was forced to leave one officer's position vacant during budget sessions last spring because there wasn't enough money, said City Manager Mark Winstanley. The department is funded mostly through lodging taxes, and those taxes were down last year. The levy would enable the department to hire the replacement officer.
The department has 19 officers, said police Chief Bob Gross, but the department has been authorized for 20 for at least three years.
Although a city that matches Seaside's population of 6,400 usually has 10 to 12 officers, Seaside is different from most cities, Gross said.
"If that was the true population that would be enough," Gross said. "But our average daily population is 7,500 to 10,000, depending on the day of the week. We have hotels and motels, and the WorldMark facility has more than 200 rooms.
"Add to that those who come for the day and leave in the evening, and you have well over 6,400 people."
If a convention is in town, another 200 to 800 people, plus their families, swell the population even more, Gross added.
The summertime crowd, he said, "is a moving target, depending on the weather and the events."
"Something as mild-mannered as the wine walk we're having on May 15 will attract 800 to 1,000 people between 3 and 7 p.m. on that Saturday in addition to the normal crowd of people who didn't know there was a wine walk."
Gradually, more events are being staged downtown during the spring and fall, Gross said.
Major events - the Fourth of July, Beach Volleyball or the Hood to Coast Relay, for instance - draw 15,000 to 60,000 people who rotate in to and out of Seaside in a weekend. Spring break comes with its own problems.
During those events, every officer is on duty and time off is not allowed. Usually, only three officers patrol the streets on weekdays - even less if an officer is sick, is in training or has time off.
"The perception is that we have a lot of officers working the streets, but we provide 24-hour coverage. Our goal is to have three officers on the road, but many times there are two people, and one of them is a sergeant, Gross said. "We can have no less than two for the safety of the officers."
The remaining $330,000 of the bond measure would pay for seven vehicles over the five years. The oldest of the department's cars has 113,000 miles, Gross said. Two have 107,000 miles, two have 97,000 miles each, one has 50,000 and another, 40,000 miles. The transmission and rear end in one of the cars recently had to be replaced, due to wear and tear, he said.
Seaside resident Merlin Humpal has appeared before the City Council asking why the vehicles needed to be replaced with only 100,000 miles. Cars that he and his family have owned, he said, have lasted much longer.
Gross noted that the cars often are driven 16 to 24 hours a day and they aren't driven by the average driver.
"They might be going down the road like any car, then suddenly, there are lights and sirens," Gross said. "They are driven quite hard. They are driven to scenes that are quite sensitive, to scenes that are violent and to accident scenes. They may sit on idle at a scene for several hours or go from a stop to high speed. The cars get quite a variety of abuses."
Because they also are driven on the beach to check out potential problems at least twice every night, the cars must have four-wheel drive, Gross added.
"These cars also are the officers' offices," the chief said. "They spend six of eight hours a day in them; this is where they do their work, their paperwork, and write their notes. We want to make sure they are safe."
Although the department usually replaces a police vehicle every year, the lack of funds prevented that last year, Gross said.
"Now we have reached a situation where we have concerns about these cars."