Council OKs Additional $737,000 Budget Cut

Police Union Warns of Six Officer Layoffs

By Dave Roberts

Seeking to keep Antioch’s government out of bankruptcy, the City Council late Tuesday night agreed to cut $737,000 from the budget – possibly including police officer layoffs – if city employees don’t continue to agree to salary and benefit concessions.

That cut follows a $700,000 budget reduction that the council authorized on November 30, which will take place regardless of employee concessions. And it could be a prelude to an additional $2-$5 million in cuts in the next fiscal year beginning in July 2011.

“We have a responsibility to stop the bleeding,” said Councilman Brian Kalinowski.

He noted that the city’s five employee unions have previously agreed to defer salary and benefit increases, but that some of those deferred compensation agreements are due to expire in January, putting the city on the hook for the extra employee costs.

“I’m not underestimating, understating or trivializing the reductions made by any bargaining group,” said Kalinowski. “Everybody has taken a hit. The problem is we have additional challenges on top of this number, and if we don’t move we are financially insolvent. If it doesn’t happen, we are not in business. We need to make the modifications to close that number.”

Kalinowski’s motion, which was unanimously approved by the council, allows City Manager Jim Jakel to reduce the $737,000 in cuts by the amount that the employee unions continue to defer their promised compensation increases. Negotiations with union representatives are ongoing, and the council will be provided with an update on January 11.

Jakel did not specify which positions will be cut to satisfy the council’s $700,000 budget cut authorized on November 30, although $200,000 of the savings will come from cuts in equipment, supplies and maintenance.

Thus far, police officer positions have been spared from the fiscal bloodletting at City Hall that has totaled $13 million over several years. But with the Police Department consuming nearly two-thirds of the city’s General Fund, it’s only a matter of time before some officers may find themselves out of work, despite the city’s increase in violent crime. The Antioch Police Officers Association (APOA) website contains an article headlined “Antioch Announces the Layoff of 6 Police Officers!”

It states: “The City of Antioch has announced on 12/14/10 they are going forward with laying off 6 police officers from the police department. The number of layoffs can be more in the coming months. The City has also left open the ability to lay off additional officers in the next 5 months making this number higher. The layoffs are to be in affect sometime in January 2011.

“This is a huge blow to the police department after losing 20 plus CSO’s (community service officers) this last year and also suffering lost through scheduled retirements over the last 3 years. The police department has been in a hiring freeze for three years.

“The police department is currently staffed with approx 102 sworn officers. With today’s announcement this will now put the department down to 96 sworn officers. This includes staffing from administration to the patrol officer. This number also includes officers who are injured and are no working the streets. The actual number of officers working patrol is much less. The layoffs will have affects throughout other specialty units within the police department to include investigations. This will affect the citizens of this community in a time when crime is on the rise. If you are concerned with your safety the POA urges you to contact the Antioch City Council and City Manager to express your concern.

“The men and woman of the Antioch Police Department strive to provide the highest level of service on a daily basis and are dedicated to protect the citizens of this community. With the recent events in the city this is putting a strain on the services the officer’s are able to provide.”

Several officers pleaded with the council on Tuesday to save their jobs. Scott Gillespie, who was hired in 2008 and has four children with another on the way, said he’s been told, “I might not have a job at the end of the year. I’ve never had security. I was the last one hired. I would be the first one to go. The bottom ten have been told the same thing the last two years. I’ve had to look my wife in the eye for two years and tell her I might not have a job. I have zero security. I’m a very active officer, proud of being able to stem the tide of criminal activity.”

Officer Eric McManus said that the police force has become depleted to the point that it is putting officers’ lives in danger and leading to an increase in crime. “It’s taken away from our ability to be pro-active, which keeps criminals at bay,” he said. “We are now a band-aid; we are a reactive, not pro-active department. This city cannot afford to let another officer go. When we start reducing our force, crimes will rise, we will become overworked, we will be fatigued. That’s where our lives are put even more at risk.”

But former Councilman Ralph Hernandez argued that it’s not necessary for any employees to be laid off if they are willing to give back the salary and benefit increases that city officials agreed to in previous years when the economy wasn’t doing so bad.

“You can save in the neighborhood of $2 million minimum per year and up to $4 million,” said Hernandez. “Certain employees pay nothing toward their retirement. It requires senior employees to give, the whole department to give. How can they continue to allow their fellow workers to be laid off so they can continue to get what they are getting? As a former officer of 33½ years, and I was shot on duty, I paid for my retirement. It’s time that certain groups say it’s time that we give back so our co-workers retain their jobs. And that this community not do without, as it has been doing.”

APOA President Tom Fuhrmann did not comment on Hernandez’s recommendation, but did warn the council that the police hiring freeze and attrition could drop the number of sworn officers down to 86, which was the size of the force when he joined the department in 1989.

“We are in a bad time right now,” said Fuhrmann. “You have to have your head in the sand if you don’t know of the recent violent crimes in our community. It is a violent community. We cannot afford to lose any officers. Eventually it will start impacting our businesses. They are going to start pulling out of this town because of it.”

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