GALVESTON — The seawall parking plan cleared its final hurdle Thursday, as the city council voted to expand the size of city’s police force and to fund those new officers out of the convention center surplus fund.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton was the only dissenting vote on both items.
Originally, the city’s plan was to fund the police officers directly out of the revenues from the parking program. A new plan was created on Wednesday night during a meeting of the Finance and Fiscal Affairs Committee. That plan involved moving the funding for the four new officers, their vehicles and the license plate scanning equipment needed for the program to the hotel surplus fund.
“I don’t believe we should use police officers to administer the program,” Beeton said. “I think we should use civilian employees because they are less expensive to employ.”
The four new officers will be paid an estimated total of $265,213, according to the proposal handed out by the city.
Beeton said she’d like the city to explore paying for current city budget items that could be funded out of the convention center surplus before adding a new program, but other council members disagreed.
“If we’re looking for efficiencies, in my mind, the safety of our citizens should be the last place we should start,” Councilman Norman Pappous said.
Because of limitations set on the use of the surplus fund, the new officers will be limited to working in areas that are classified as tourism zones. Police Chief Henry Porretto said those zones will include the beaches, as well as downtown, and possibly other areas during special events.
Porretto said that the police officers for the parking program would probably work within their own special unit. Because the hiring process can take up to a year, Porretto said the officers for the seawall parking unit would be reassigned from the current force.
“It’s going to be something along the lines of a tourist safety unit,” Porretto said. “It’s basically a community policing extension, except it’s to tourists.”
Five civilian parking attendants will still be paid for by the revenue from the parking program.
City Manager Michael Kovacs said the startup costs for the program, which includes signage and advertising, could be taken out of the city’s general fund and then reimbursed as the program begins collecting money.
Seawall parking was approved by voters in 2011. The city will charge drivers $1 an hour for up to eight hours to park on the seawall between 6th and 69th streets and 81st and 103rd streets.
The city has estimated that it will collect $1.55 million in gross revenue from parking fees in the first year of the program. State laws mandate that the revenue collected from beach user fees go to enhancements to the beach.
Following the vote on the police force expansion, Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell reiterated his belief that the program could be put into place before Memorial Day, but probably not in time for spring break.