San Bernardino Seal

Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/04/2013 07:54:10 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – Nearly $1 million in salary increases for police officers and firefighters were approved Monday as required by the city’s charter, despite protests that the money couldn’t be spared in a city struggling through bankruptcy court.

The vote was largely symbolic – Charter Section 186 sets pay as the average of 10 similarly sized cities, and any City Council action violating that would be overruled by courts – but that didn’t stop passionate debate over the requirement itself.

“We are and have been for many years on autopilot on our most expensive single item,” said Mayor Pat Morris, referring to labor costs for the Police and Fire Departments. “Particularly in the times that we have now – that is, times of bankruptcy and insolvency – to not have the power to control these items is a remarkably unwise autopilot condition on a very important labor contract.”

Morris and other opponents of the charter requirement say it makes no sense to pay the same in San Bernardino as in much more affluent cities that can afford higher salaries.

But if the city pays less than those cities, said City Attorney James F. Penman and other supporters, quality employees will be drawn to those cities.

“We don’t compete with 10 of the poorest cities in California for our police officers or our firefighters,” Penman said. “It doesn’t matter when you’re trying to hire the best men and women possible to police our city and to provide fire protection whether our income as a city is less than Redlands’ average income, unless you want to have on the streets as our police officers and firefighters people who are not competitive with police in Redlands and Rancho (Cucamonga) and other places.”

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