Chandler officials are considering spending a significant amount of its $36-million in new federal pandemic relief on improving police staffing levels.
According to a preliminary spending plan recently proposed by city officials, Chandler would divvy up the money into five spending categories: economic vitality, innovative technology, mobility, quality of life and neighborhoods.
Under quality of life, $6 million would be spent on hiring new police officers – an expenditure that local leaders say is greatly needed and long overdue.
Police Chief Sean Duggan said his department is continuously in the process of hiring new officers, but retirements and sick-leaves have made it difficult to ensure the city is completely covered at all times.
“There are times where a patrol team that’s scheduled to work may be short-staffed,” the chief said.
Last month, Duggan and representatives of Chandler’s police unions asked Council for additional support to ease some of the burden.
The pandemic, civil protests and an uptick in violent shootings have put a greater strain on the department over the last year and Duggan is hoping additional officers will prevent others from feeling burned out or overworked.
“The concern we have right now is that we are having a great deal of difficulty convincing people to come and work,” Duggan said.
The chief noted Chandler currently has the same number of sworn officers it had back in 2008 even though the city’s population has grown considerably over the last decade.
The city’s pandemic relief money could potentially be enough to create 10 new policing positions as well as provide permanent funding for 15 positions that had been provided through temporary funding in the city’s budget.
More officers would allow the agency to assemble a new unit Duggan wants to create for responding to crime trends in specific regions of the city.
This “neighborhood response team” would be trained to be versatile in reacting to a wide range of law enforcement needs, the chief said.
Duggan has recently released a hiring plan that aims to generate more than 60 new positions over the next five years.
With the federal funds, the chief hopes to bring on 27 new jobs in the next fiscal year. One of them would be an additional school resource officer that the Chandler Unified School District would partially pay for.
The department is also hoping the city will consider in adding 10 new positions each year between 2022 and 2026. These new hires would work in a variety of jobs including traffic cops, detectives, detention officers, evidence technicians and records clerks.
As of this month, the city is planning to create at least nine new positions across its various departments for the 2021-2022 fiscal year by utilizing money out of Chandler’s general fund.
Dawn Lang, the city’s management services director, said it has been several years since Chandler has used its general fund to add this many new positions in a single budget cycle.
These nine new positions – which include jobs in the Fire Department and City Court – don’t include any new positions created with the pandemic relief funds.
Last summer, the city received $30 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and spent the funds on assisting local businesses and improving the city’s technology.
A breakdown of the city’s spending of its new federal funds has Chandler dedicating about $4 million for new officer positions, $1.2 million for replacing outdated policing equipment and $750,000 on financial incentives to new police hires.
The city would additionally like to spend $500,000 of its federal aid on a national recruitment campaign to fill vacant positions in various departments. Chandler now has about 120 vacancies it’s quickly trying to fill.
Before coming up with its spending plan, city administration consulted with council members to find out how they thought the $36-million allotment should be spent once it was handed out by the federal government.
The city tried to focus on projects that would only be a one-time expense, meaning it wouldn’t result in producing ongoing costs that would have to be annually factored into the city’s budget.
Acting City Manager Joshua Wright said Council expressed interest in directing the federal funds toward reducing homelessness, diversity initiatives, transportation and assisting local nonprofits.
To accommodate these interests, the city has proposed spending $787,000 on helping residents avoid homelessness and another $900,000 on transitional housing.
The city has set aside $200,000 of the federal dollars for assisting residents in finding affordable housing and $250,000 for starting a pilot program that could address Chandler’s impoverished neighborhoods.
Wright said money spent on these social services would likely benefit the Police Department since it might cut down on the agency’s call volume.
“I think that will have a direct impact as well on our public safety system here in Chandler,” he said, “reducing some of the burden placed on our front-line officers.”
The most expensive items listed in the city’s spending plan is an $11-million upgrade to Chandler’s street lights and $5 million for improving sports fields at Snedigar Recreation Center.
Other proposed projects include spending $500,000 to upgrade the city’s traffic camera system, $2.6 million for installing more bicycle-detection cameras at various intersections and $150,000 for expanding the city’s partnership with Lyft.
Last year, Chandler launched a pilot program with the ride-sharing company to provide discounted lifts to residents living in south Chandler.
The federal money could possibly allow for Lyft’s service area to expand into other parts of the city.
Another $250,000 of the federal aid could be spent on installing protective railings along the city’s bike lanes a service that residents have been asking for in transportation surveys administered by the city.
“People want a little bit more safety around the bicycle lanes on our major thoroughfares in Chandler,” Wright noted.
Intel’s recent announcement of its forthcoming expansion has motivated the city to reserve some federal funding money for the infrastructure needs that come with economic development.
The city has set aside $4.1 million for building out the roads, sidewalks, or sewer lines that might be needed to accommodate future developments.
The city’s plan further attempts to reverse some of the damage that’s been done to local businesses throughout the pandemic.
According to public records, tax revenue collected from Chandler’s hotel industry shrunk by 36 percent in November 2020 compared to the previous November. Revenue generated by entertainment venues dropped 42 percent in that time frame.
Officials are considering spending $200,000 of the new federal money to market and promote Chandler’s tourism industry and $1.5 million to assist local nonprofits.
Another $300,000 has been earmarked for an “angel fund” that encourages investors to support Chandler’s startups.