As the City Council is faced with plugging a $9.7-million budget gap deficit for the next year, there is debate on where to make the deepest cuts. Some have suggested that certain city programs may come to an end and further layoffs may be on the horizon. City Council members have given their approval of less than 5% cuts for some city departments, but others may face cuts as high as 7.5%.
Although cost-cutting measures have been discussed in general, there seems to be a general consensus within the City Council that both police and fire will be largely immune to the full cutbacks, despite the fact that the two departments take up a great chunk of the city’s general-fund budget. Even in the face of deep budget cuts for other city departments, police officers are due to receive a 6% pay increase in July as a part of a four-year contract negotiated in 2007.
Both Mayor Frank Quintero and Councilman Ara Najarian, who were endorsed by the police and fire unions for their April reelection campaigns, have been the most adamant on the issue of shielding police and fire from facing budget cuts. And the city’s overall official tone toward cuts for police has been somewhat apologetic.
“I’ve been very thankful to the association for even entertaining the idea of meeting with us,” said Matt Doyle, the city’s human resources director.
But the police union needs to do more than just meet, especially given the example set by the firefighters union. Earlier this year, firefighters agreed to forgo raises of up to 2.5% for the next two years.
And while the Police Department presented options for budget cuts, it was Fire Chief Harold Scoggins who presented a proactive plan for cutting costs and streamlining operations.
His plan would save the city $800,000 by changing the manner in which emergency medical response services are delivered. The new system would switch out non-sworn fire personnel on ambulances for less serious emergency calls.
While preserving his cautionary approach toward cuts for the Police Department, Najarian suggested that there may be some room for similar savings for the police, but except for not filling a few open positions, police have yet to put forward any significant measures to help cover the budget deficit.
The City Council is scheduled to meet in closed session today to discuss any possible outcomes from private union negotiations last Thursday. Let us hope something significant is announced by day’s end.
The council’s hands-off approach to the Police Department so far highlights one of the conundrums of our electoral system. City Council candidates seek and receive endorsements from the police officers union, and then during their time in office feel obliged to support all measures related to police. Without the endorsement of the police union, council candidates will have little chance of getting elected.
Not all unions carry the same weight in the elections. In sum, a no-confidence vote from the police union could imply that residents may be living in less than safe neighborhoods by voting for an unendorsed candidate. Not many people will take this chance.
With so much at stake in the budget cuts, future electoral endorsements and political alliances, it would have been best to further involve the public in all discussions dealing with the budget.
In a time when many good, hard-working people are losing their jobs, homes and life savings, it may be wise to expect that the Police Department not only concede its scheduled 6% pay increase, but also follow the example set by firefighters to come up with creative cost-cutting solutions and contribute to bridging the deficit. We all have to pitch in.
PATRICK AZADIAN is a writer, Glendale resident and the director of admissions at Mt. Sierra College in Monrovia. He may be reached at email@example.com.