Friday, April 29, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Proposed City Budget Has Deep Police and Fire Cuts

Sacramento budget proposes deep cuts for police, fire departments

Published: Friday, Apr. 29, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
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This is the budget Sacramento City Hall has been dreading.

Roughly 80 police officers stand to lose their jobs under a budget plan to be released today, part of a proposal from the interim city manager that would cut $32 million in spending across city departments.

The cutbacks proposed for the Police Department, which currently employs 700 uniformed officers, would spare little beyond patrol officers. The proposal calls for eliminating the gang, narcotics, auto-theft and Problem Oriented Policing (POP) units; police presence in city schools would be cut by 25 percent.

Under the proposal, six Fire Department rigs would be out of service at any given time on rotating brownouts, up from two currently. And of the city's 15 community centers, all but three – South Natomas, Coloma and Pannell – would close.

Like cities around the state, Sacramento continues to feel the effects of declining sales and property tax revenues, as well as rising costs for employee benefits and salaries.

Interim City Manager Bill Edgar, who took the helm three weeks ago after the previous interim city manager quit, said the city could no longer address its problems by drawing on reserves and one-time fixes. The city's financial reserves, he noted, are down to $14 million, enough to cover a single two-week payroll period.

"We've got to make the cuts, and we've got to make them now," Edgar said. "We need to break down this organization and rebuild it."

Since 2007, Sacramento has trimmed $92.5 million from its general fund budget, or about one-fifth its bankroll. Many of the cuts have fallen on the parks department and other services that don't involve public safety.

And the cycle isn't projected to end this year: City officials put the cumulative deficit over the next five years at an estimated $62 million.

As in years past, city officials will seek concessions from labor unions to lessen the severity of layoffs and service cuts. Letters have been sent to union leaders, but most of the bargaining groups' contracts are not set to expire until next year.

Some union leaders have expressed reluctance to reopen their contracts before July, the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year. Many say they don't know Edgar and were upset that former Interim City Manager Gus Vina was not given the job permanently.

In any case, Edgar said Thursday, the city is not interested in getting by with one-year concessions from workers. Instead, officials hope to persuade the unions to agree to long-term givebacks, including increased employee contributions toward pensions and health care.

"One-year concessions put us right back in the same situation," said Councilman Jay Schenirer. "We have a multi-year problem here."

The proposal is the first in years to call for significant staffing cuts to the Police Department. Sacramento Police Officers Association President Brent Meyer said his union is not willing at this point to discuss salary concessions.

"I'm wondering how come the city is not able to meet their obligation with the contract they signed with us," he said, referring to the agreement signed in 2009 that saved the city $6.4 million. "At this point, we're going to go through the budget hearings and make our case about why cuts to the Police Department are unacceptable and why they should not occur."

In signing the contract, which expires in June 2013, the SPOA agreed to forgo a 5 percent pay increase in exchange for a one-year protection from layoffs.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who had strong support from the public safety unions in her election last June, said "I think losing nearly 100 officers is more than we can afford to lose."

"I want (SPOA) to come to the table, and I want them to have a conversation about the severity of the situation," she said. "We've got to find some middle ground in a very, very difficult set of circumstances."

The police positions slated to be cut include 35 that were funded with federal grants. The three-year grants were provided with the stipulation that the city would lose the funding if any of the officers were laid off.

If the cuts come to fruition, spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong said, the department would seek a waiver allowing it to keep the funding.

The budget also proposes cutting 69 positions from the ranks of unsworn employees, including dispatchers, crime scene investigators, community service officers and administrators.

Leong said the cuts would be "drastic," shrinking employee ranks to pre-1997 levels. "The Police Department wouldn't look the same," he said.

Fire Department service cuts are also being proposed, although it is unlikely that many – if any – firefighters would lose their jobs. In addition to the brownouts, the city is proposing reducing the staffing on two fire rigs from four firefighters to three.

Jaymes Butler, head of the firefighters union, said the union would take the city to court, as it has in the past, if that proposal passes.

Butler said Local 522 is willing to discuss concessions, but only if the city is transparent.

"If they want us to come to the table, we need full disclosure," he said. "We need to see the books."

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