Colusa Police Department asks for exception to hiring freeze

Just a month after the city council directed their city manager to institute a city-wide hiring freeze, the Colusa Police Department was given an exception. A majority of the council agreed to do so by consensus, although Dave Markss and Greg Ponciano expressed reservations.

According to city manager Jesse Cain, the need for an exception came about after the cadet the city sponsored to attend the Butte College Police Academy dropped out of the program, City Manager Jesse Cain said during last week’s city council meeting. According to Police Chief Josh Fitch, the department also stands to lose two of its current officers, who have submitted job applications elsewhere.

“Since the last council meeting, I have one that’s got an interview in Nevada City next week, and I have another that (has an application) out with the Sheriff’s Office, and then the one that dropped out of the academy,” Fitch said. “The guy I had in backgrounds is now in background with Roseville PD. So, I don’t know how you guys want me to proceed, if at all.”

When the city council instituted the hiring freeze at their last meeting, which took place on Aug. 7, Mayor Greg Ponciano admitted it would affect the Colusa Police Department the most. At that time the department had the cadet at the academy, who they expected be on the street in April. Fitch was also in the process of hiring a tenth officer to reach a staffing level they hadn’t seen sine the 1970’s. While the hiring freeze wouldn’t have stopped the department from hiring the cadet they had sponsored (had they successfully completed the academy), it did put a stop to the hiring process for the tenth officer.

With two of his officers potentially leaving the department and the cadet no longer being an option, Fitch said his staff could drop to six officers. Fitch said he was “pretty sure” he was going to lose at least one of those two officers, but was actively trying to talk the other into staying at Colusa Police Department.

If that officer – the department’s current K9 handler – ends up leaving, it would likely mean the end of the department’s K9 program as well.

“I’m going to have to scrap the K9 program if he goes, because that’d be four handlers in four years, and we just don’t keep guys long enough,” Fitch told the council.

Ponciano suggested that the matter come back before the council on Oct. 2.

“Would that give you enough time to see if there are viable applicants, and then by that time we’d actually know if you’ve lost officers or not, and we can kind of see the whole picture?” Ponciano asked.

The department currently doesn’t have any applicants, other than the one Fitch took out of backgrounds after the last council meeting, who is now in the background process at the Roseville Police Department, he said.

“Yeah, but if I reach out the guy I had in background, I would want to give him some assurances that, if I put him back in background, I’m not going to do the same thing I did to him last time, and say, ‘No, never mind, just kidding,’” Fitch said. “So, if we wait the almost month again, I think my chances of being able to pull him back this way are reduced.”

Councilman Tom Reische said during the meeting that he felt the council needed to give Fitch the leeway to hire someone immediately.

“I’d say if we’re capable of, and (Fitch) has the fear of getting dangerously low on police officers, we need to act tonight,” said Councilman Tom Reische. “So, my personal opinion is, we’re going to continue with the hiring freeze, but we have to give Josh the opportunity to – if he can get people in to apply, we’ve gotta get moving on that right now. That’s my opinion.”

Councilman Dave Markss argued that the city still hadn’t resolved it’s basic budget issue.
“We can’t get along with six officers,” Reische responded, adding that there would be no increased burden on the budget by allowing Fitch to hire to replace the officers he stands to lose.

“So, we’re not going to allow Josh to get down to six officers and have his hands tied to not even be able to talk to an individual, and sound like he has the opportunity to hire them,” Reische said. “…It would be stupid to say that we’re not going to allow that – we’re not going to get to six officers.”

Councilmen Dave Womble and Josh Hill said they agreed with Reische. Fitch clarified that even without losing two of his current officers, he would need to hire one to bring his staffing to nine – where the number stood when the hiring freeze was instituted.

“We’re $434,000 out of budget, and we’re gonna have to look at making cuts, potentially. I see a problem with bringing somebody in and saying, ‘Now we’re going to have to let you go.’” Marks said, adding that if the council allowed an exception for the police department, it opened the door for other departments to come in with their own requests. “And then we’re still at a half-million dollar deficit. We’re getting further and further along into the budget year, where we’re having less and less time to make adjustments. It has nothing to do with staffing and nothing to do with the department – it strictly has to do with being able to fund the positions.”

Ponicano said he agreed with Markss. Womble noted that there was a potential cost savings with new hires starting at a lower pay scale, even if the police department maintained a staff of nine officers.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net