10:45 PM PDT on Monday, June 20, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Corona police issued layoff notices to 15 patrol officers Monday in an effort to shave roughly $4 million from the city’s budget over the next three years.

Officials said the nearly 10 percent reduction in the force is the largest reduction in police manpower in over two decades.

Corona Police Chief Richard Madory said the officers’ final work day is June 30.

The move came as a surprise to Madory, who was told by city officials Thursday to begin sending out notices after salary negotiations had stalled after several months.

City officials would like to continue talks but for now have decided layoffs were a difficult, but only, option.

“I was, as many are, shocked that we were going to have to do this. I’m shocked and saddened. This is very unfortunate,” Madory said.

Corona Police Officers Association President Jim Auck said he was baffled by the city’s decision to order layoffs.

“I’m just flabbergasted,” Auck said. “We offered them $3.5 million and they turned it down. We didn’t know what they wanted.”

Auck said the association is essentially being forced to take salary increases they didn’t want and were willing to continue deferring, but the city offered different cuts that would have cost officers more than they were willing to pay in the long run.

City officials said some of the proposal included conditions they were not certain were legal.

The cut to Corona’s force represents about 10 percent of the department’s 164 sworn officers and about 21 percent of the roughly 70 officers in the patrol division.

Recent hires

The officers given notice were the most recent hires to the patrol division and were hired within the last four years, Madory said.

Madory said he plans to fill Corona’s vacancies with officers from other departments and on special assignments to prevent response times and calls for service from suffering.

“We’ll have to see how that impacts other functions of the department,” Madory said. “We’ll make sure there’s enough people in the patrol function to fill that void. Fifteen people is a lot of people.”

In 2008 Corona Police Department took a big hit when losing 24 positions, but no active officers were laid off. Nearly half of those jobs were unfilled, including four sworn officer positions.

Corona Mayor Stan Skipworth said the city’s needs to save some $4 million over the next three years.

He had expected that money to be saved through salary negotiations with the Corona Police Officers Association, but conversations between the city and the labor group took an unexpected turn.

“I thought we were making tremendous progress,” Skipworth said. “We had the sudden change. It’s very disappointing.”

Labor negotiators made a final salary offer that would save the city about $1.1 million over the next three years, Skipworth said.

“That was something we couldn’t accept at the time,” he said.

The offer would have saved about one-third of the savings the city needed, $4 million, Skipworth said.

The city had agreed to a five percent salary raises to begin this fiscal year and 4 percent next year, Skipworth said. But the city wanted to defer those increases, causing negotiations to reach a sticking point.

The department will receive the raises, but that means layoffs must happen to recoup the savings.

He hopes the two groups can return to the bargaining table and avoid layoffs but for now the positions remain cut. “This was an extremely difficult decision,” Skipworth said.

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