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The first public hearing item on Tuesday's Council meeting agenda is:
Hold a public hearing and consider an ordinance authorizing an amendment to the 2006 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) (CIP Budget Amendment No. 2) decreasing the appropriation of funds.
At the July 10, 2006, Work Session, Council reviewed an update and status report on the SafeLight Garland Program. As part of the presentation, staff presented information regarding a collections shortfall anticipated for 2005-06 and projections for 2006-07. A proposed Budget Amendment No. 2 would reduce the 2006 Capital Improvement Program by $2,460,000 by eliminatinig the purchase of an AS350B2 Eurocopter. The debt service payments for the purchase of the Eurocopter and operating expenditures for the Air Support Unit were to be funded from SafeLight collections.
I have stated earlier my reluctance to rely on the SafeLight camera funds as a permanent funding source for the helicopter. Unlike the opinions stated in today's Metro Section of the Dallas Morning News by former Councilmember Weldon Bradley, the future of these funds are too tenuous.
"I don't think they are going to go away," Mr. Bradley said of the cameras. "I think the Legislature is coming on board. Other cities are using them. The state may say they're going to take part of the money, but I don't think they'll kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
"The City Council is charged with the safety of the city, and it's their duty to protect the citizens and get the best police equipment they can get. I think this helicopter will do it. I don't know that we will ever have enough forces on the ground."
First, I don't know how anyone can state such opinions categorically and produce no evidence to support that position. As I have said, I've lobbied the Legislature on behalf of red light cameras as part of the Legislative Agenda of Texas Neighborhoods Together and I've visited with many of the legislators involved, including Representative Joe Driver, the first member to introduce legislation in support of the cameras. Nowhere in that whole spectrum of experience do I have any positive feedback that encourages me to believe that the cameras are here to stay. It is easy for some to speculate but I can't meet my responsibilities as a Councilmember banking on conjecture.
Second, Mr. Bradley implies not supporting the purchase of a helicopter by whatever means necessary, whether fiscally sound or not, is tantamount to not caring about the safety of Garland citizens. There is no connection. However, this Council must make fiscally-sound decisions, something too many on the last Council were content to overlook. This council, and others like it, must provide for public safetly. Police officers in Plano receive the highest salaries of any area police department. Yet neither Plano nor any other Metroplex suburb has a helicopter. Not buying a helicopter does not translate into not caring about public safety. Police Chief Bates has repeatedly said his department needs support personnel. He has not said a helicopter would eliminate his need for ten or twenty or even one position.
And last, Mr. Bradley exhibits the attitude that is mostly likely to stimulate the Legislature to step-in: "... I don't think they'll kill the goose that laid the golden egg." Law enforcement cannot be seen as a profit-oriented business! The job of the police department is to discourage crime. Success has to be measured in low crime statistics, not revenue. As Representative Driver said to me, when these enforcement programs become revenue sources for the purchase and operation of such high-dollar assets as helicopters, the chance of seeing the programs killed in the Legislature rises significantly.
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