Budget Crunch Pinches Police and Fire Dept. ‘Open Houses’

For budgetary reasons, this year’s Police and Fire Department “open houses” will be a bit less open — though that could change in future years.

The event, an annual part of the “Cruz’n For Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show,’’ is scheduled for Sept. 15 – but unlike in past years, this time will not feature tours of the police and fire stations, John Pope, the city’s public information officer, confirmed this week.

Other police- and fire-related activities will be “scaled back” as well, Pope said.

“It’s important to emphasize we’re not pulling out of the event entirely,’’ Pope said. “(But) there was a $10,000 to $15,000 cost for additional overtime that the police did (last year).’’

That was a significant factor, he said — with the city grappling with a budget deficit and police and firefighters already piling up OT.

Pope said the decision was made collectively between Police Chief Joe Ortiz, Fire Chief Paul Riddle and City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.

The “Cruz’n” event benefits the city’s Tournament of Roses float, and Pope said local TOR organizers were kept in the loop and were OK with the decision as well.

Pope said there still will be police and fire booths and demonstrations on Mission Street during the Sept. 15 event, but that other activities, in the past held behind the stations, will not take place or be scaled back and limited to Mission Street venues.

There still will be a police-led color guard, Pope said.

Pope said that, in recent years, the Police Department in particular has had trouble recruiting and retaining officers because of pay issues — and as a result, the remaining officers are “already being asked to do a lot of overtime and he (Chief Ortiz) didn’t want to add to that burden.’’

Pope said overtime had reached a “crisis situation,” but that the recently signed three-year contracts between the city and its police, fire and municipal-workers unions figure to stabilize the recruiting and retention issues.

That means, Pope said, that Ortiz would be “open to considering going back to an open house next year.”

The city’s overall financial situation also could ease if voters pass a proposed three-quarter-cent local sales tax in November.

If approved, the tax would raise about $1.5 million per year in local revenue — helping close the budget gap for the next several years, according to city staff reports.

The “Cruz’n” event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mission Street, from Fair Oaks Avenue to the Gold Line train station.