Dos Palos police to fight council move on pay cuts

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comNovember 27, 2012 

— Officers with the Dos Palos Police Department are battling against major cuts to their pay and benefits.

In a move made during a Nov. 6 meeting, the City Council went against a mediator's advice and cut officer pay by 5 percent. The city is also making officers pay more into their retirement and for dependent medical coverage, according to city officials.

Because the city made the move retroactive to Aug. 1, officers are getting additional money taken out of their paychecks — a move their union representative thinks is illegal.

Joey Green, a K-9 officer with the department, said officers are losing nearly half their monthly salaries because of the recent decision. The officers have hired an attorney outside their union to represent them, Green said. A citizens group is also planning on going door-to-door to spread awareness about the issue.

"For us, we're just getting screwed," he said.

Green said his pay being retroactively taken has been a burden on him and his family.

"The money they're taking from me was rightfully paid to me," he said. "What they're doing is not right. The gloves are off."

But Manuela Sousa, Dos Palos' finance director, said everything was done legally and was made clear in paperwork shared with the officers.

"The city had to do this because, financially, we could not continue to pay the dependent coverage and their portion of (employee retirement)," Sousa said.

Dependent coverage and retirement was costing the city about $50,000 a year and $45,000 a year, respectively, she said. Employees now pay for any dependent insurance coverage as well as their retirement portions of 9 percent.

The mediator's report shows that the city's budget is tightening. "It is clear from the presentations made by both the city and the union, that financial circumstances are dire for Dos Palos right now," according to the report, which states that the city has an operating deficit and dropped to a general fund balance of about $60,000 at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year from $191,365 in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

However, the city's officers earn less than others in comparable, nearby cities and are operating "with a skeletal crew," according to the report.

With the exception of the 5 percent pay reduction, the cuts from the officers are consistent with other city employees, Sousa said.

Doug Gorman, a business agent with the Operating Engineers Union that represents the Dos Palos Police Officers' Association, said he thinks the city is doing a disservice to the Police Department and the community by cutting so much from the officers.

There are only five officers working there and most might have to leave for other jobs because they won't be able to afford the cut to their pay. The result would be a less-experienced police force.

"To some of them, that was a $1,500 a month cut," Gorman said, adding that pay for Dos Palos officers tops out at $3,800 a month. "I know that at least three of them are looking for jobs right now."

The city will be taking money out of the officers' paychecks through the end of the fiscal year because of the retroactive cuts, but Gorman thinks the move is an illegal one.

The mediator advised against the retroactive take-back as well as the 5 percent cut.

The cuts made by the city will last until June 30. More negotiations could happen before then.

City Manager Darrell Fonseca and Mayor Johnny Mays said the process was done appropriately and legally.

Fonseca said the 5 percent pay cut imposed on the officers might have been avoided if they had not dragged out the negotiation process, which created extra expenses for the city.

Fonseca and Police Chief Barry Mann got raises about a year ago of less than 10 percent, but Fonseca said the cuts to police are the result of the city's overall financial picture and can't be attributed to any one action.

Fonseca did take a voluntary pay reduction shortly after getting the raise to prevent his salary from going up. Now that the negotiation process is over, Fonseca said he hopes all employees and taxpayers can move forward.

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

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