Mayor Jim Ridenour on Monday bluntly countered claims by Modesto's police union that he intends to lay off officers.
"I am not laying off cops," he said. "The (Modesto Police Officers Association) is laying off cops."
His remarks drew a line between his bid to close a $4.8 million budget shortfall with furloughs and deferred raises and the MPOA's stance that its members are underpaid and deserve better job protection.
The MPOA on Friday rejected Ridenour's request to postpone the 3 percent raise it's getting this month and the 2 percent raise its members are scheduled to receive in February.
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Delaying the raises would save $820,000, which is roughly equal to the pay and benefits for eight to 12 officers.
The MPOA has been distributing a memo that says the council intends to lay off that many cops. It does not mention Ridenour's request to defer raises.
MPOA President Tony Arguelles did not return a call for comment Monday.
Ridenour's remarks spelled out that he would follow through on the layoffs because of the MPOA's decision to keep its contract closed.
He believes he's asking less of the MPOA because his request would hold steady police wages whereas other city employees would lose nearly 5 percent of their salaries through furloughs.
The MPOA reached a contract with the city in December calling for 10 percent raises over a little more than two years.
A city salary survey showed that MPOA members were paid an average of 17 percent less than their counterparts at a dozen similar organizations. The MPOA agreed to wait on the raises for close to a year to save the city some budget pain.
"They feel they've already given something," Councilman Garrad Marsh said. "There's two sides to the story. Do I think they still need to be part of the team? Yes, I do."
The union wants a guarantee that its 202 members will be safe from layoffs if it accepts Ridenour's proposed concessions.
It has indicated to the city that it's willing to open its contract to consider postponing the raises if the city gives police officers an extra 200 hours of paid vacation valued at $1.6 million or by giving the union a 17 percent raise in March.
Ridenour found those requests unacceptable.
"With our citizens struggling and suffering in these dire economic times, it is unthinkable that the MPOA would not only refuse to postpone their salary increases, they would request increases to their compensation packages," he wrote in a statement to The Bee.
The council is unlikely to make deeper cuts in other departments because of the MPOA's rejection of Ridenor's proposal.
"If there's a group that doesn't want to participate in (furloughs or similar salary givebacks), I'm not going to penalize other groups that have agreed to take a furlough," Marsh said.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.