After agreement, Livingston council votes to cut police officers’ pay

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 5, 2014 

Livingston police officers and their supervisors will get a 7 percent salary reduction effective immediately, the City Council voted unanimously during its meeting this week.

City leaders reached an agreement with the Police Department’s two employee unions – the Livingston Police Officers’ Association and the Livingston Police Supervisors’ Unit – after more than a year of negotiations.

The agreement, which ends in December, includes a $50 contribution per officer toward health insurance and limits the number of unused vacation hours an officer can cash out to 40 per year. After July 1, officers’ contribution toward their health insurance will double to $100 per officer, per month.

Livingston police officers earn anywhere from $3,514 to $4,270 a month, according to the city’s finance director. A corporal can earn $3,691 to $4,487, lieutenants earn $5,090 to $6186, and sergeants earn $4,282 to $5,204 a month.

Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza said Tuesday that he encourages the employee unions to work cooperatively with the city in making cuts, saying the city spent $25,000 last year on the negotiation process.

“The unions have to understand that we’re going through tough times,” Espinoza said during the meeting. Dragging out the negotiations is costing the city a lot of money, he said.

Kristen Lucas, president of the Livingston Police Officers’ Association, said she is very disappointed with the situation and feels the city could have made cuts in other areas.

“I don’t think the unions would have fought all year if we felt the city was doing their part to cut in more appropriate places,” Lucas said. “I think they did a great disservice to their employees, not just the officers, but all of the employees. Yet, they still continue to put money into things that are unnecessary.”

Lucas pointed to the additional costs of some of the city’s festivals and parades as an example.

Last year’s Sweet Potato Festival cost the city $38,694.68, according to city documents. The city lost $1,300 during festival because revenue didn’t exceed the cost of putting the event together, Ramirez said.

The city also absorbed costs of staff overtime, including police officers and public works officials, during other gatherings such as the annual Kite Festival and Fourth of July fireworks display, Ramirez said.

Lucas said the City Council hasn’t made decisions to make the city financially solvent. “I think our association is tired of hearing that the previous administration left a big mess,” she said. “These guys have had long enough to fix things, and it seems like they don’t have a clue about how to run their finances.”

The five members of the City Council each get paid $300 a month and have not taken any pay cuts, according to city officials. Ramirez and Finance Director Odi Ortiz voluntarily took a 5 percent pay reduction in October 2013, which was retroactive to July 2013.

Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said that even though the council hasn’t reduced the $300 stipend, members have voluntarily given up other perks to save money.

“We are authorized to get paid for our cellphones and none of us are doing it,” Samra said. “I can’t remember anytime I’ve turned in (vehicle) mileage and the mayor hasn’t either. When we go to meetings we take time off work ... you don’t want to be making money off being on the council, but you should at least break even.”

The city of Livingston allocates 60 percent of its general fund revenue to public safety, including fire. It’s less than the neighboring cities of Merced and Atwater, according to city documents. Merced’s budget allocated 71 percent to police and fire services, while Atwater designated 66 percent.

On average, most California cities devote about 64.3 percent of general fund revenues to police and fire services, according to the California Local Government Finance Almanac.

Despite the salary cuts, Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said the level of service the agency provides will not be affected.

“We’re not losing anybody, and we have the same number of officers,” Chavez said. “This impacts their morale and their families, but I’m confident they will continue doing the great work that they do, and the department will continue moving forward.”

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

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