Modesto city employee labor unions are agreeing to pay concessions to stave off layoffs and help close a $12.7 million deficit.
But some city employees are still threatened with job losses, and the concessions won't prevent a reduction in services for Modesto residents.
The city likely will avoid laying off frontline police officers, though positions will be left vacant and a police sergeant and corporal were added to the list of cuts.
The Modesto Fire Department will still lose an engine company and other cuts will be made to parks maintenance, recreation and other services if the City Council approves the budget Tuesday.
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"I think (the police officers) are going to be held harmless," Mayor Jim Ridenour said. "I will say the negotiations with the unions and our staff went really, really well."
Even though their union agreed to wage concessions, 10 community service officers — employees who handle low-level police reports and other assignments — are expected to lose their jobs, a representative said. Other unions don't expect to hear details about layoffs until next week or later.
The city released a proposed budget in May that threatened to eliminate 60 positions, including 35 in the Police Department and 10 in the Fire Department.
City officials have since negotiated at least tentative agreements with five of the six labor groups and two have ratified contracts, which should save the city millions of dollars in personnel costs.
As of Thursday, the city was still looking at cutting 45 positions, of which 40 are filled, City Manager Greg Nyhoff said.
Nyhoff said the city is waiting for employees to respond to early retirement and voluntary separation offers, which will reduce layoffs. So far, 10 employees have expressed an interest.
Pad reserve, manager urges
The city has about $500,000 in additional general fund money to play with, aside from a $7 million reserve for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But Nyhoff said he is recommending the council use the money to pad the reserve.
The labor contracts call for most employees to take 96 hours of unpaid time off in the coming year, plus an agreement to start talks no later than August over adjustments to pensions and retiree health benefits.
Early this week, the city reached tentative agreement with the Modesto City Employees Association, representing more than 400 public works employees. The members are slated to vote on the contract June 28.
The two-year deal will require employees to take 12 furlough days each in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the equivalent of a 4.6 percent pay cut. Ten of the furlough days are fixed; employees will have latitude to schedule the other two.
City officials want most of the furloughs to coincide with Stanislaus County office closures in the coming year. The joint city and county office closures at Tenth Street Place will save on utilities and reduce other expenses.
The contract will give employees an additional $50 a month toward health insurance for themselves and dependents.
Pension reform talks
But, for new hires, the contract will eliminate a policy allowing employees to convert sick leave to retirement health benefits. The sick-leave conversion for active employees will be on the table during the pension reform talks.
"We understand there is an economic problem and we are willing to work with the city," said Ronnie Flood, president of the Modesto City Employees Association.
The Modesto Police Officers Association ratified a three-year extension of its contract, postponing a 5 percent pay raise until 2012-13 and agreeing to 96 furlough hours next year, 72 furlough hours in 2011-12 and another 96 in 2012-13.
Union President Tony Arguelles said the contract will save the city $5.5 million over three years.
"We are hoping that, since we reached such a good agreement, the city will take into consideration not laying off any officers," Arguelles said Thursday.
Last year, the MPOA and the City Council could not reach a compromise. Eight officers lost their jobs but were rehired when Modesto received a public safety grant through the federal stimulus bill.
No saving some jobs
The union representing nonsworn police personnel was not given a chance to avoid layoffs, said Art Miller, union president. The job cuts are one less than originally proposed, but only because a community service officer resigned.
The budget will leave 21 of the nonsworn officers to issue parking tickets and take reports on vandalism, burglaries and other nonviolent offenses.
"Basically, the city told us there was nothing we could do to save the 10 positions," Miller said. "All we could do is make concessions to prevent the layoff number from going higher."
The firefighters union will collect ballots today on a contract extension that delays pay raises, reduces vacation time and eliminates an engine staffed by nine people. The engine is already offline, but officials plan to beef up a downtown Modesto engine company to protect the multistory buildings in the area.
The Fire Department believes it can avoid cutting filled positions through retirements and positions left vacant in recent years. If not, the union is willing to talk with the city about more concessions, said Cecil Ridge, head of the Modesto City Firefighters Association.
The city is still talking with the union representing police managers and supervisors. The budget proposes to cut five supervisorial positions.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2321.