Livingston City Council considers salary reductions for police, changes to fireworks ordinance

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 3, 2014 

— The City Council tonight will consider approving an agreement to cut pay for police officers and their supervisors in an effort to move closer to adopting a balanced budget. The council will also consider changes to the city’s fireworks ordinance.

City leaders have been in negotiations with the two police unions, the Livingston Police Officers’ Association and the police supervisory union, since February 2013, said City Manager Jose Ramirez.

After a lengthy fact-finding process costing the unions and the city $3,000 each, the groups agreed to the city’s concessions. The agreement includes a 7 percent salary reduction, a $50 contribution per officer toward health insurance and a 40-hour annual cap on cashing out unused vacation.

The officers are allowed to cash out 80 hours of vacation each year, so the agreement cuts the hours in half. The agreement will end in December, according to city documents.

The city reached similar agreements with other city employee groups in an effort to close a $150,000 shortfall in the proposed budget. The council doesn’t want to approve a budget for fiscal year 2013-14, Ramirez said, without reaching agreements with all employee unions.

“With these concessions, our goal is to balance our budget,” Ramirez said, noting the city has been operating with a temporary budget. “In the 14 years I’ve been in city management, I’ve never gone this long without a budget. Now that we have a tentative agreement, we can go into the next council meeting looking to adopt a budget.”

Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said the concessions are a “fair compromise,” but will still have a big impact on his department’s 17 sworn officers and three supervisors.

“I just have to try to keep them motivated and let them know this is something that we’re going to get through as a department,” Chavez said. “I’ve always strived to be someone who recognizes good work, and hopefully there are other avenues to motivate the officers.”

One officer position has been frozen, Chavez said, but he’s hoping to fill that position after the concession agreement is approved by the council.

Chavez, along with Ramirez and Finance Director Odi Ortiz, voluntarily took a 5 percent pay reduction in October 2013, which was retroactive to July 2013.

Fireworks ordinance

The council will also consider adopting a series of changes to the city’s fireworks ordinance, which include entering interested nonprofits into a lottery, limiting the number of booths per high school and allowing council members to select two of the five nonprofits that operate booths.

In the past, the city’s five fireworks stands were assigned to nonprofits using a rotation schedule, said Recreation Superintendent Jacquelyn Benoit. The rotation schedule meant that a group might not be selected to run a fireworks stand for several years.

“The council has decided they will pick two booths themselves,” Benoit said of the ordinance changes. “The nonprofits will fill out an application just like everyone else, but they will write a letter telling council why they should not go into the lottery.”

This is the first time the city has adopted this method, Benoit said. Based on discussions at previous council meetings, it appears members have decided who will occupy this year’s two booths – Livingston Youth Football and the Fourth of July committee.

Councilman Jim Soria, who serves as a coach for Livingston Youth Football, pushed last month to have the football group selected, particularly because of the death of the group’s coach. Next year, the football team will have to compete for its spot again.

Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra acknowledged having the council select two nonprofits each year could give the appearance of favoritism, but the selections will still need approval by all council members.

“It could look like there is favoritism, but other council members have to vote on it, too,” Samra said. “You still have to convince the other (council) members and it still requires a vote.”

Samra said he was most concerned about the high school running multiple booths for different groups, such as football and basketball teams. The new ordinance will limit the number of booths for the high school to one.

“The high school has so many subgroups, they’d end up with three or four booths (in one year),” Samra said of the old system. “We have so many worthy nonprofits out there and my main concern was giving everybody a fair chance to get their booth in.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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