Budget puts police on chopping block

CITY HALL — After months of wrangling over a $9.7-million deficit, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a balanced $808-million budget that includes across-the-board cuts of up to 7.5% that will likely mean pink slips for three sworn police officers.

Nearly all of the cuts came out of the $164.8-million general fund and included millions in savings from wage concessions, a hiring freeze, the elimination or downgrading of roughly 30 positions and a restructuring of the way the city pays for street and capital improvements.

The cost-cutting exercises have kept City Hall on edge for months, even as the City Council managed to avoid unpopular mandatory unpaid work furloughs or widespread layoffs. But despite Tuesday’s milestone, the new budget heads into the new fiscal year under the shadow of the ongoing state fiscal crisis, in which lawmakers continue to squabble over how to close a $24-billion deficit.

“We’re going to have to come back, I’m sure,” said Mayor Frank Quintero. “I’ll be absolutely stunned and surprised if we don’t lose money to Sacramento.”

Current proposals include provisions for raiding local government coffers, with the promise to repay the money in three years with interest. If it passes, Glendale would lose out on millions of dollars from its share of gas taxes and redevelopment funds, which in turn would force City Hall to reexamine the budget for even more cuts, city officials said.

Also a dominant factor Tuesday was the police union’s unwillingness to reopen its contracts for next fiscal year, when its members are due to get a 6% pay raise. The City Council had held out on making significant cuts to the Police Department in hopes that the union would agree to concede 1% or 2% from the raise, but the concession never came, forcing a restructure of community policing services and the elimination of seven positions. The move will likely translate to the layoff of three sworn officers.

Interim Police Chief Ron De Pompa’s revised plan for instituting a 5% reduction in funding included a proposal to cut three community policing officers and assign the remaining five to a regional area, where they will act as the single point of contact on public safety issues for residents. Each officer will be overseen by lieutenants who are currently division watch commanders.

“In essence you get a team approach to a specific area,” DePompa said.

In order to save the two-officer Vice Unit, DePompa proposed to cut two positions from the eight-officer Downtown Policing Unit. In turn, the central business district will be one of the five regions included in the community policing regions.

And upon learning that a high school student resource officer position would be eliminated due to a lost grant, the City Council directed De Pompa to find a way to reinstate the officer at a cost of $126,000, money that would have to be cut elsewhere in the department.

“I think the money is best spent with the students,” Councilman Ara Najarian said.

Despite the cuts and maneuvering, De Pompa said, the overall plan “lessens the impacts of these consequences and maximizes the remaining resources.”

But it was only grudgingly accepted by a City Council that had clearly preferred concessions from the Glendale Police Officers Assn. as an alternative to making difficult service cuts.

The firefighters union earlier this year agreed to forgo its planned cost-of-living pay increases for two years, while the other employee and management unions also gave up some of their own pay bumps.

As the police cuts were finalized in a Tuesday morning budget study session, Councilman Dave Weaver was especially vocal in his disappointment.

“I’m sorry folks, you police out there, but you aren’t giving at all,” he said shortly before walking out of the meeting.

While unhappy with having to make the cuts, others on the council said they were impressed with what they called an innovative strategy by police.

“I just think that’s going to be an effective way to police this city,” said Mayor Frank Quintero.

Throughout the budget process, city officials have acknowledged that services will be affected by such deep cuts, but have looked to minimize impacts to services, a philosophy DePompa emphasized as well.

“There are definite consequences to this,” he said. “But we will employ different strategies to hopefully meet the needs.”

 MELANIE HICKEN covers City Hall. She may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at melanie.hicken@latimes.com.

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