Modesto City Council members Tuesday advanced a round of budget cuts that would slice 14 positions in the Police Department but said they hope officers will agree to wage concessions instead.
City officials are expected to meet today with the 202-member Modesto Police Officers Association to try to work out a compromise that could spare nine officers who otherwise would face layoffs.
The other five positions involve members of other unions, and those jobs could be saved if agreements are reached between them and the city.
The MPOA contract is the principal hang-up in the council's attempt to close a $4.8 million budget shortfall without layoffs. The council adopted the contract, which calls for 10 percent raises over a little more than two years, in December.
"I still believe they deserve (the raises), but at this time, we have no money," Mayor Jim Ridenour said, describing how his thoughts on the raises have changed since he voted for the contract six months ago.
Other cuts include turning off the water at small "parkettes," vacant parcels in some neighborhoods that the city traditionally has maintained. Likely concessions from the firefighters union will enable the city to staff an engine that was scheduled to be sidelined.
Ridenour wants the MPOA to defer a 3 percent raise this month and a 2 percent raise scheduled for February to save $820,000. The union's median pay would climb to $6,295 per month if the raises go through as planned.
The union would prefer to keep its raises but would accept furloughs as long as it gets a no-layoff pledge. The furloughs would save the city about $820,000 annually.
If the two sides can't reach a compromise, the city would follow through on the layoffs.
Union representatives did not speak at the council's Finance Committee meeting.
Former Mayor Carmen Sabatino cast the scuffle over the MPOA contract as one the council created with its December vote for the raises. He said the elected officials should have known that the recession would deprive Modesto of tax revenue.
He further said the tough bargaining positions the MPOA and Ridenour have taken in public have damaged the public's perception of the Police Department and the council.
He held up a flier the MPOA mailed to voters with headlines describing rising crime juxtaposed with a warning that council members were "erasing" front-line officers.
"None of this had to occur," Sabatino said. "This didn't have to happen. Now we're in a position of having the council and Police Department do things like this, which is very, very bad for the Police Department."
Council members said they could not have predicted the depth of the economic hit the city is taking. Modesto's general fund revenue has declined by about $15 million since last year, to about $106 million.
"Hindsight's 20-20, but at that particular time, that's where we were with the data we had," Councilman Brad Hawn said.
Council members said they wanted to hold onto city reserves because they anticipate losing $3 million to $7.7 million if the state opts to borrow money from local governments to balance its budget.
Councilman Garrad Marsh said labor concessions would go a long way to preserving police jobs even without a no-layoff pledge.
"We don't know what'll happen from the state, and I think that's our biggest concern, but even with that, I think we can secure our police," Marsh said.
Modesto has tentative agreements calling for delayed raises or furloughs with the Modesto City Employees Association, Modesto Confidential and Management Association, and Modesto City Firefighters Association.
The city's still in talks with the Modesto Police Management Association and Modesto Police and Fire Non-Sworn Association.
Labor agreements and the budget cuts council members reviewed Tuesday are expected to appear before the full council next week.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.