BUENA PARK : Firefighter, Police Pay Concerns Heard

Members of the police and fire associations turned out in force at Monday's City Council meeting to voice their frustrations about cuts in benefits and another year without pay increases.

"The employees deserve to be treated fairly," David L. Woofter, president of the Buena Park Police Assn., told the council. "Taking money out of their pockets to solve the city's problem is not fair."

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 police officers, firefighters and their families attended the meeting. An hour before the 5 p.m. meeting, members marched outside City Hall carrying placards that read, "Crime Pays, Buena Park Doesn't."

Both employee groups last week rejected the city's final offer for one-year contracts. The previous contracts expired in October. Employees have not had salary increases in more than two years.

Jim Carey, a fire captain and paramedic, urged the council to "open your minds and hearts to work with the employee groups . . . negotiations have come to a standstill.

The city's final offer included reductions in benefits, some unpaid holidays and no pay raises, according to association representatives.

"The City Council understands the employees' desire for increased pay and benefits," Mayor Arthur C. Brown said in a statement. "We cannot comprehend their lack of understanding (of) the current fiscal condition of the city, county and state."

Officials said the city is facing a financial crisis this year because of nearly $2 million in state cutbacks.

City Manager Kevin O'Rourke said the city has "less money every year. The idea the city is holding back money" from employees is "ridiculous," he said.

O'Rourke said that to cope with the budget squeeze he expects further reductions in service and staff, as well as possible tax increases.

Police and fire association members say that with staff cuts they are working harder to provide the same level of service yet doing it for less pay and benefits than their counterparts in other communities.

Jim Hayes, vice president of the police association, said the police force has fewer officers than 10 years ago and answers more calls, makes more arrests and deals with more crime.

"We are not demanding to be paid top dollar, however, we are asking for a fair salary," Hayes said, adding that the lack of a pay raise last year meant that officers' pay "was actually worth less. Again this year, the City Council will attempt to balance its budget on the backs of its employees. We say, 'No, not again.' "

David C. Dorn, president of the Buena Park Firemen's Assn., said that 10 years ago, the Fire Department had 80 firefighters who responded to 3,656 emergencies. Last year, Dorn said, the force dwindled to 61 firefighters who responded to 5,352 calls for help.

"The citizens of Buena Park don't deserve to have reduced fire and paramedic protection," he said.

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