Atwater officers agree to large pay cut

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comOctober 12, 2012 

— Members of the Atwater Police Officers' Association accepted an enormous pay cut Thursday as the city continues its push to balance the budget.

Association members members voted 29-2 to take a 22 percent cut, though their contract does not expire until 2014.

Frank Pietro, police chief and interim city manager, said the move will bring nearly $500,000 in savings to the city.

"I'm just totally elated that they stepped up to the plate and gave up 22 percent," Pietro said. "That's a lot of money. They took it upon themselves to help the city out."

The 22 percent is what the city figured it would need from the union to help tackle the general fund deficit of more than $3 million.

"They never balked on it, and they never deviated on the 22 percent," Pietro said.

Anthony Cardoza, a detective with the Atwater Police Department and president of the association, said the membership, made up of nearly 40 officers and support staff, knew this is what it needed to do to help save the city.

"We've always been up for helping the city out as much as we can," he said.

Last year, the association agreed to about $250,000 in concessions.

The latest agreement was partly aimed at avoiding any possible layoffs to the department.

"Our staff, we're operating a lot of times on a skeleton crew," Cardoza said, noting that layoffs wouldn't be feasible for the department. "We're not pointing fingers at anybody -- we're in a crisis."

The cut could become effective later this month. It's unknown how long it might last, but Cardoza said it may run through the close of the fiscal year, which ends July 31.

A possible half-cent sales tax initiative on a future ballot could have a big effect on the future of the department. Details are preliminary and it is still being analyzed, but it's been mentioned as part of an earlier strategy to get the city's general fund into the black.

In the meantime, another employee group that represents Atwater's unionized public works employees and clerical workers has been asked to take a cut in addition to concessions they've already given, but Pietro said that proposal is still being considered.

Though the city initially issued 14 pink slips earlier this month, Pietro said that number has been whittled down to nine.

Similarly, 24 employees got letters notifying them that they could be laid off, but Pietro confirmed that those notices will be rescinded by Monday.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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