Six months after Tucson voters overwhelmingly passed a sales-tax increase for road repairs and public safety upgrades, police officers and firefighters are beginning to reap the benefits.
Proposition 101, which passed in May and went into effect in July, raised the city sales tax from 2 cents per $1 to 2½ cents per $1, in an effort to raise $250 million by the time it expires in 2022.
The Public Safety Tax Oversight Commission has been meeting regularly since September to monitor the progress of the expenditures, which includes nearly $150 million in improvements and repairs for the Tucson Police and Fire departments.
The public safety improvement plan outlines equipment purchases and repairs that are scheduled to be made over six fiscal years under a program called Tucson Delivers.
Although software purchases must be made all at once, so that both departments are trained and using the same system, items such as ballistic vests and vehicles will be ordered in stages.
Of the 1,050 ballistic vests approved for purchase, 210 have been approved for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, said Tucson Delivers program manager Amber Kerwin.
The vests will be ordered in batches of 70, and the first group is due to arrive in about a week, Kerwin said.
The Tucson Police Department recently received 300 new body cameras, and command staff is working to schedule training with the officers. Once training is complete, the cameras will be distributed, likely by the end of the month, Kerwin said.
The city has also received 500 new Tasers, which will be deployed to officers along the same timeline, Kerwin said.
The department will purchase an additional 250 Tasers next fiscal year to complete the order under the improvement plan.
Of the Police Department’s specialized vehicles to be purchased this fiscal year, a prisoner-transport van already has been ordered and should arrive in about a month, Kerwin said.
The department is in the process of evaluating models for the new mobile command unit, also scheduled for purchase this year, Kerwin said.
The department will be bringing 70 new patrol vehicles into its fleet this fiscal year, with 35 having already been ordered. It takes several weeks after the vehicles arrive to install the necessary ancillary equipment, Kerwin said, adding that she’s getting ready to purchase the second lot of 35.
The public safety improvement plan allows for the purchase of 257 patrol vehicles.
Twenty-five unmarked vehicles are also on order, Kerwin said.
Seventy of this year’s 262 new laptops for the fleet vehicles have been ordered already, and in-vehicle printers are being purchased in conjunction with the patrol cars, with 35 having been ordered earlier this week, Kerwin said.
Several items on the Police Department’s list are still in the planning or evaluation phases, including in-vehicle cameras, desktop computers, evidence storage bins and software upgrades.
Fire department gear
The Fire Department has been issued 98 new sets of turnout gear, fulfilling the fiscal year’s total. An additional 392 sets will be ordered over the next several years.
Turnout gear, specialized clothing firefighters wear for protection, has a limited service life and has to be replaced every several years, depending on how often it is used, said Capt. Andy Skaggs, a department spokesman.
After five years, a set of gear is turned to backup status, and once it reaches 10 years, it is no longer safe to use, Skaggs said.
“We depend with our life on this stuff,” he said.
“If our gear has any kind of tear in it, it’s out of service and has to be repaired by someone certified by (National Fire Protection Association) standards on how to repair that turnout. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
The new turnouts are being distributed to firefighters whose gear needed to be replaced, Skaggs said.
The department has also received 62 new cardiac monitors, the total approved under the tax measure, and software upgrades are in the works, Kerwin said.
Staff will begin training on the new monitors Monday, Skaggs said.
Tucson Delivers ended up purchasing more than the initially planned 28 patient-care reporting laptops to be used in ambulances, as units in the field have begun failing more frequently and the need for newer computers arose, Kerwin said.
Under the plan for this fiscal year, Tucson Fire is to receive 18 new nonspecialized fleet vehicles, including battalion chief and maintenance trucks, all of which have been ordered.
The department is also scheduled to receive several new apparatus vehicles this fiscal year, which include pumper and ladder trucks, ambulances and special-purpose vehicles. Although none have been ordered, the committee is working out contract details.
A $500,000 update to the departments’ computer aided dispatch system is in the planning and implementation stage and should be complete by the end of the fiscal year, Kerwin said.
The committee is getting estimates for the mobile data terminal laptops used in the fire trucks, but the purchase might be put off until next fiscal year to compensate for the increase in purchase of the ambulance laptops, Kerwin said.
On the construction front, work has begun on the Public Safety Training Academy’s vehicle training track, with work expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year, Kerwin said.
The road-repair aspect of the tax measure hasn’t taken effect yet, but the commission that oversees the Safer Streets Roadway Improvements Plan as part of Tucson Delivers will be meeting in January to begin discussions, Kerwin said.