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Glendale approves $11.1 million increases for police, but there's a catch

Glendale approves $11.1 million increases for police, but there's a catch
A potential Glendale police recruit attends a June open house. (Ross A. Benson/Glendale News Press)

The Glendale City Council has signed off on three years of salary increases for police officers, culminating nearly five months of negotiations between the city and the union whose members had gone six years without a raise.

The agreement comes with an $11.1-million price tag, a cost that elected officials said was well-justified, offering an incentive as police agencies throughout the country struggle to fill their ranks.

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"I want the best police force that money can buy," Councilman Ara Najarian said. "I will spend almost anything to protect my family, to protect your family."

Approved on a 4-0 vote this week, the agreement kicked in Oct. 1, with police officers and sergeants receiving a 3% salary bump. That will be followed by another 3% hike in July and a 3.5% increase a year later.

Also, employees with certain Peace Officer Standards & Training certificates will earn an extra $125 a month the first year, plus an extra $150 a month in each of the following two years.

"It's huge for officer morale and will hopefully prevent any of our officers from leaving this agency" for compensation reasons, said Sgt. Jason Ross, president of the Glendale Police Officers' Assn. "At the same time, we hope it'll continue to attract the best candidates out there."

Locally, police are grappling with a jump in crime while working to fill vacancies. Three trainees recently turned in their badges after finding the stresses of the job too great.

Two quit after the July shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas during a protest over police shootings and three other officers were gunned down in Baton Rouge.

A survey comparing the salaries and benefits of police officers and sergeants in 10 other cities, including Burbank, Inglewood and Santa Monica, found that Glendale police officers fall nearly 12% below average.

"We're not paying them more than the average. We're not setting the trend," Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said of the agreement. "We're merely trying to catch up with it."

While council members were supportive of the agreement, it comes with a catch.

A clause toward the end of the 126-page document states that it will be nullified if the city loses the ability to transfer money from the electric fund to the city's general fund, which pays for most public services, including police officer salaries.

At $20.1 million, the last transfer in June accounted for nearly 11% of the city's budgeted general fund revenues, according to City Atty. Mike Garcia. At the end of this fiscal year, Glendale anticipates another transfer of roughly the same amount.

The city, however, was sued over the practice, which the plaintiff said amounted to "hidden taxes."

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the city had violated Proposition 26 when electricity rates were increased in 2013 to continue funding the transfer.

Under the proposition, approved in 2010, a rate increase to pay for something that's not related to the cost of providing the service requires a two-thirds approval by voters.

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At a hearing next week, the judge will decide how the city will have to credit ratepayers, as well as whether that decision will be stayed on appeal, Garcia said.

The city plans to appeal, he said, arguing that a provision in the proposition states that it's not retroactive, and therefore the city acted lawfully.

"Our view is, because that transfer existed prior to 2013, that's something we can still continue to charge as part of our rates," he said, adding that the transfer has been approved by voters in the past. "We don't feel we should have to go back to voters to get it approved each time we want to increase electric rates."

The appeal process could take up to two years, during which time the city hopes to continue making the transfers.

Tchekmedyian writes for Times Community News.

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