The City Council this week signed off on three years of salary increases for Glendale police officers, culminating nearly five months of “very challenging” negotiations between the city and the police union, whose members had gone six years without a raise.
The agreement comes with a hefty three-year price tag of $11.1 million, a cost elected officials said was well-justified, offering a draw to Glendale as police agencies struggle to fill their ranks as interest in the profession wanes amid high-profile shootings throughout the country both by and of police officers, while better-funded departments offer incentives others cannot.
“I want the best police force that money can buy,” said Councilman Ara Najarian. “I will spend almost anything to protect my family, to protect your family.”
Approved this week in a 4-0 vote (Mayor Paula Devine was absent), the agreement kicked in Oct. 1, with police officers and sergeants receiving a 3% salary bump. That will be followed by another 3% hike next 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 four police officer vacancies, including the positions of three trainees who recently turned in their badges after finding the stresses of the job too great.
Two of those trainees quit after they were shaken by five police officers being gunned down in Dallas in July during a protest over police shootings, followed by another three officers killed in Baton Rouge 10 days later.
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 pay under the agreement. “We’re merely trying to catch up with it.”
He said he worried about officers getting poached by higher-paying agencies, especially as police departments throughout the state compete for qualified applicants.
“We will have served a function of an incubator,” he said. “We bring these police officers up, we train them, we bring them to fruition, make them good officers, and then we have to lose them to another city that’s willing to pay them more money.”
While council members were overwhelmingly supportive of the agreement, it comes with a catch.
A clause toward the end of the 126-page document states that it shall 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 Glendale City Atty. Mike Garcia. At the end of this fiscal year, the city 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 violated Proposition 26 when electricity rates were increased in 2013 to continue funding the transfer.
Under the proposition, approved in 2010, a rate hike to pay for something that’s not related to the cost of providing the service requires a two-thirds approval by voters.
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.
“It would be very disruptive to us to stop our current practice, which we believe is lawful,” Garcia said. “We’re taking into account all the risks. This transfer is not an insignificant portion of our General Fund revenues, so we can’t just stop on a dime and go in a different direction.”
Alene Tchekmedyian, firstname.lastname@example.org