Provo Police Chief named Chief of the Year 05

Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson looks on as Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi speaks during a ceremony held at the Provo City Council Chambers on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Provo Municipal Council has given final approval to the city’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

The full budget for all funds lands just over $292 million. That reflects a 1.5% reduction from the originally proposed budget in all departments, according to Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.

That is with the exception of the police and fire departments.

“We felt good about leaving those two departments untouched as a symbol of our gratitude for our noble police officers and firefighters,” Kaufusi said.

The police department budget for 2021 is $18,627,052. About $2.4 million of that is assigned for community policing and $119,979 for victim advocates.

The fire department budget currently sits at $10,950,067.

Like other cities around the country, public input on defunding the police department was part of the budget’s public hearing on Tuesday.

Council Chairman George Handley reported the council received 39 comments on the city’s Open City Hall website on de-funding, and three callers participated remotely during the meeting.

One caller asked for an exploratory committee to be formed to create safeguards for residents and for a great discussion on services versus policing. She acknowledged there is already a good relationship with the police department and the community but said more needs to be done.

Following the public request to defund police, Handley, recognizing their concerns, made a personal statement regarding the situation. He noted the budget process had been going for some time and that timing for these de-funding requests were “quite a bit late” for this budget cycle.

Handley suggested an ongoing conversation with the public, and between the administration and the City Council, on the possibility of improvements.

“I don’t think any of us wants to or should want to assume that we can’t improve or that we don’t have areas of concern,” Handley said. “I know that we do a lot of things really well in Provo with our police force, but I am sure that there are things that we can do to improve.”

Handley added, “The conversation that is happening nationally and here in Provo is really a conversation about a pretty significant cultural change as well as a political change. I guess all I am saying is that it is the kind of conversation that, to do it right, it really needs to take some time, and for us to make any last minute decisions about our budget at this point, I think it would be, it would risk not resulting in the kinds of results that we would like to see.”

Handley did say a process was underway where the police chief is meeting this week with people in the public to provide an opportunity for him to hear the concerns of the public and for him to provide information to the public.

“I think it’s fabulous that this is now a moment when there is greater and greater transparency, there is more interest in the public than ever before in the budget, which I think is wonderful, and so I think we would like to, as a council, again, I am speaking for myself, I would like our council to host discussions about this,” Handley said.

Handley and Kaufusi met prior to the council meeting and both indicated a willingness to gather information and feedback.

In his statement, Handley also noted that the police department has been understaffed for many years and officers are putting in “enormous amounts of overtime hours.”

In her letter to the council, Kaufusi noted that most of the personnel budget items have been funded.

“I’m grateful we have been able to fund most of our employee compensation package, with only two components being held back, our market-based increases and the popular sick leave buyback program,” Kaufusi said.

Kaufusi also announced a sort of hiring freeze.

“To provide flexibility in the budget, including if revenues are worse than anticipated, I am imposing a soft hiring freeze throughout the city organization, meaning directors will need to get my approval before filling any vacancies,” Kaufusi said. “This will help us be nimble in adjusting to whatever the financial year brings.”

For public safety, $55,766 is being allotted for one new police officer position. The Provo School District offered to fund half the salary of another school resource officer, starting back in January 2020, according to John Borget, director of Administrative Services.

“This, however, necessitated sending that officer to a school, which effectively reduced Provo’s available police force by one officer,” Borget said. “Funding in the FY21 will allow the city to hire an additional officer to take over the work that the now dedicated school resource officer had previously been performing for the city.”

Borget also notes that economic impacts of COVID-19 being unknown left the administration attempting to submit a budget that is conservative and utilized fund balance (or rainy day funds) to address critical needs of the city to protect the long-term goals and objectives.

As evidenced in Provo and the nation, there are many signs that the local and the national economies are dropping due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to Borget.

“The city is currently cautious about sales tax revenues and anticipates they will drop approximately 5% from current trends prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Borget said.

A comprehensive list of fees is included in Provo City code as well. The budget highlights 20 utility rate increases that are being implemented to fund ongoing operational and capital improvements throughout the city.

For a complete summary of highlights, or to study the entire budget document, visit http://provo.org.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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