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If money grew on trees the Hollister Police Department’s
staffing woes could magically disappear.
If money grew on trees the Hollister Police Department’s staffing woes could magically disappear.

But it doesn’t, and city officials have differing views when it comes to finding solutions to the problem.

Due to the city’s budget deficit, injured officers and a history of staff shortages, the department is extremely low on able-bodied officers to protect the community.

Implementing a public safety parcel tax is one way to boost revenue for increased public safety, said Police Chief Jeff Miller.

“I know tax is a three-letter word and some people aren’t in favor of it and others would support it, but options need to be considered,” he said. “People have to decide what the community will support – a tax to improve services or support reduced services. You can’t have it both ways.”

Mayor Tony Bruscia believes the community already pays too much in taxes and the burden should instead be placed on the police officers themselves, he said.

“Personally I’m not in favor of a tax increase for anything – whether it’s for orphans of the police department,” he said. “What’s really important that the public understand is that if (the police department) took pay cuts or cuts in their retirement program we could have more police officers.”

The department’s retirement budget for this fiscal year is approximately $700,000, and in upcoming fiscal years police officers will receive an upgrade in their retirement package that will cost about $1 million in the city’s General Fund, Bruscia said.

“They already have a great retirement plan. ($1 million) is about eight or nine cops,” he said. “The PD needs to step up to the plate and be part of the solution.”

Miller wouldn’t comment on officers taking a pay cut because it is confidential personnel issue, but also acknowledged that other options than a tax increase exist.

“A lot of people need to contribute to discovering a solution,” he said. “This is a time that requires soul searching on everyone’s part – the community, businesses, the council and employees.”

Bruscia conceded police officers put their lives on the line and doesn’t blame them for not wanting to give up their hard-earned money, he said.

And while a tax is one option, it’s not the only one. For greater insight into a problem that directly affects the community, residents should be involved in exploring those alternatives, he said.

“The community needs to speak out and communicate with the council members and let us know what their priorities are,” he said. “Where is the community’s voice?”

Conversely, Councilman Robert Scattini believes a sales tax expressly for public safety could help right the wrongs that both the police and fire departments are currently suffering.

A tax with a possible sunset clause of three years could have a chance of being approved, Scattini said.

“It could help a lot, particularly if we get businesses built back up in Hollister,” he said. “Other than that, I don’t think we’d ever pass a tax in this city unless it’s specifically for public safety.”

Putting a tax on the November ballot isn’t a possibility because it’s too late, but a half-cent to three-quarter cent tax could be put on the ballot for the next election, Scattini said.

A couple of the officers that are on the department’s injured list have been off work for more than a year, and retiring them out and hiring new officers is another possibility, Scattini said.

“Right now six officers are on disability. We need to look at the injuries and see if they’re able to come back to work,” he said. “If they’re not, we need to retire the ones who are not able to come back.”

The department monitors all injured officers to see when they will be able to return to full and active duty, Miller said.

Several officers should be able to return to duty within the next months, but being quick to retire officers is risky, he said.

“Philosophically, officers are risking their lives every day and I think it’s important for them to know if they get hurt doing the job, that we’re going to take care of them – that we’re not going to abandon them,” Miller said. “We follow each case and keep them moving along so they don’t drag out…. I have the same frustrations the council members have in things dragging out.”

Erin Musgrave can be reached at 637-5566, ext. 336 or at

[email protected].

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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