Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/14/2010 06:21:00 PM PST
RIALTO – Morale among police officers is suffering and Councilman Ed Scott has mentioned the possibility of layoffs and bankruptcy as stalled talks between the city and the police union could delay a solution to the General Fund deficit.
“We are at a standstill but that standstill is based (on the fact that) we’re waiting for them to provide the answers to our financial situation,” said police Sgt. Richard Royce, head of Rialto Police Benefit Association.
Royce said officials want the union to extend into next year concessions made in 2009, but the Finance Department won’t make clear how much the city needs.
“We asked the city point blank since we started concessions and they couldn’t give us an answer,” Royce said.
The union gave up roughly $2 million in concessions last year to help close a $4.8 million deficit.
The concessions included a 10 percent cut to base pay, cuts to overtime, forfeiture of holidays and the elimination of a program where officers could cash in unused vacation time.
Some gave up an annual $800 uniform allowance which enables officers to replace or repair their gear, Royce said. Others relinquished a benefit for higher education achievement.
Royce said the concessions in some cases amounted to a 30 percent hit to member compensation. Some have filed for bankruptcy, he said.
Councilman Ed Scott said that’s no different than what many residents in the city have suffered under a tough economy.
“My response is, how many of my residents had to give up stuff, or had to file bankruptcy or had to lose their houses?”
Still, as the city is facing a deficit of more than $8 million, the union wants to know where the $2 million in concessions went and why the city is asking for more.
“They are taking this money and it appears they have been diverting it somewhere else and they won’t give us an answer,” Royce said.
But Scott said the concessions were used to help run the city. The alternative is worse, he said.
“When we get to a position where we can no longer operate the city, we’ll bankrupt it,” he said.
Scott said while bankruptcy is far off, layoffs could be imminent.
Contracting out police and fire as other cities have considered is not on the table, Scott said. But the city may consider tax hikes.
“I’m willing to do whatever the taxpayers of the city want us to do,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, the city is in talks with other bargaining units about concessions.
“We need the same cooperation once again,” Garcia said. “This is a dollars and cents issue.”
Nash Briones, head of the Rialto Professional Firefighters Union, declined to comment on the specifics of the talks, but said an agreement could be reached in the next couple of weeks.
Tom Ramsey, supervising labor relations representative for the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents the city’s general employees, could not be reached for comment.
The city and the police union disagree over how much the General Fund reserves have grown since they stood at roughly $31 million in June.
Royce said he is sympathetic to the city’s situation, but some of the reserves could provide a short-term solution that doesn’t involve slashing pay to law enforcement.
Scott said reserves will be used, but warned they only go so far.
“If they want to spend our reserves, we’ll spend our reserves,” he said. “We’ll have no bond rating and the city will eventually end up in bankruptcy.”
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