Last night, an overflow audience observed an emotionally charged discussion of a recently proposed study on consolidating HPD and County Sheriff services. Several representatives of the Hollister Police Officers Association took turns repeating their objections to revisiting the question since a study conducted 18 months ago had concluded there could be no significant cost savings unless there were significant staff reductions. They emphasized that a major reason voters approved Measure E recently was to restore public safety services not reduce it. They also voiced objections to the idea that a strong HPD would be dissolved and taken over by a weak Sheriff’s Department whose budget has been so severely cut they can only put 1 or 2 deputies on patrol at any time.
Councilman Gomez acknowledged that the original 2011 study was not supported by either the Police Chief or the County Sheriff and that several elements of that study had not been followed up on or completed. He also suggested that if consolidation were to be considered that they should study HPD taking over the Sheriff Department.
Mayor Velazquez strongly concluded that no decisions had been made but the City needed to study all possibilities to determine if there were any opportunities to save taxpayer money while improving services to both the City and the County. He emphasized that despite passage of Measure E, which he referred to as a temporary band aid fix, the City still has a significant budget problem and that voters expect their elected leaders to consider all options to maximize service while reducing costs. He also pointed out that the City and County are interconnected at so many different levels, both government bodies have obligations to put aside turf boundaries and work toward improving service for all residents.
Mayor Velazquez commended Hollister, San Juan Bautista and County fire agency officials for working together to devise a consolidation plan which could improve service and reduce response times throughout the service area. The plan calls for a network of four stations including San Juan Bautista and a new station near the airport. He cited this cooperative effort between the Cities and the County as a good example of how government agencies can and should work together to solve mutual service and budget problems.
The City is also moving forward on studying a proposal to rename parts or all of Highway 25 to the Pinnacles National Park Highway. The idea, which was originally expressed by this writer during some Rally discussion in February, came up at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting and has been well received. The SBC Council of Governments is studying various issues related to a possible name change and Mayor Velazquez has asked Assemblyman Luis Alejo for his support at the State level.
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