Proposed city budget emphasizes mental health needs - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Proposed city budget emphasizes mental health needs

May 11th, 2021 development
Proposed city budget emphasizes mental health needs

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year could potentially dedicate more resources toward addressing the community’s mental health needs.

Multiple department heads are hoping the Chandler City Council will authorize more funds to create new positions that emphasize serving residents who are struggling with emotional or mental problems.

The Chandler Police Department is looking to create a full-time position that can be dedicated to coordinating the mental health and wellness of its staff.

Police Chief Sean Duggan said this new position would develop programming designed to promote personal resiliency and peer support among the agency’s 334 sworn officers.

“We need to make an investment on our front end to keep our officers physically and emotionally healthy,” the chief said.

The nature of policing has changed significantly in recent years, the chief added, and there’s more awareness now of the psychological turmoil that comes with the job.

“We are just now fully realizing the deteriorating effect that high stress, crime, and repeated trauma — the toll it takes on our officers’ emotional well-being,” Duggan said.

One year after the city scaled back spending in anticipation of the pandemic’s economic impact, Chandler is now preparing to commit more funds to creating new positions across various departments and ramping up its recruitment to fill existing positions that are still vacant.

“As the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic anticipated in the prior year were not realized,” a city memo states, “many of the programs and projects removed in the prior year were added in the proposed budget.”

Chandler’s 2020-2021 budget only added two new job positions to the General Fund – one of which was mostly offset through funding paid by the Chandler Unified School District.

This year, the city is considering adding at least nine new positions to the city’s payroll as well as several more jobs that would be funded through federal funding recently allocated by Congress. The proposed budget currently adds about $9 million in new expenditures to the city’s General Fund.

One of the new positions in the pending budget would be an additional clerk at Chandler Municipal Court that would specialize in handling mental health cases.

Acting City Court Magistrate Alicia Skupin said this new position would work with other departments to reduce recidivism among defendants who may be homeless or have an untreated mental condition.

More than a decade ago, City Court lost seven clerk positions during the Great Recession and the court had to adapt its operations with a limited workforce.

Skupin said it may be time now to add another clerk position, especially one that can work with law enforcement and social workers to track complex cases involving mental health.

“The resources that we’re asking for, not only is for the court,” Skupin said, “but is for the greater good of the city.”

The additional clerk would cost Chandler about $76,600.

The city’s Neighborhood Resources Department is hoping to receive $89,500 to create a new supervisory position for Chandler’s housing navigators.

The department has a number of staff members who connect vulnerable residents with social services that can help them avoid becoming homeless.

Neighborhood Services Director Leah Powell said the creation a supervisory position would be “vital” to help coordinate navigators and organize resources.

During the pandemic, the city partnered with some other municipalities throughout the Valley to offer free hotel rooms to residents on the verge of losing their housing.

Navigators have been instrumental in connecting residents to the hotel program, Powell noted, resulting in 80 percent of participants finding permanent housing.

“It is doing wonders for our population who is experiencing homelessness,” Powell said. “We want to be able to beef up that navigation and keep it as an ongoing component in our community.”

Powell’s department additionally wants $95,000 in one-time funding for a temporary navigator position that would be tasked with developing a pilot program related to mental health.

Powell said she’d like to hire a navigator who can exclusively partner with city police to focus on residents struggling with psychological problems.

“We want to be a tool for the police department and to help them,” she added.

Council is expected to adopt its 2021-2022 budget during a meeting on May 27.