Los Banos police salaries cut

LOS BANOS -- Police Department employees stand to lose as much as 11.5 percent of their incomes over the next three months through a benefit change the City Council adopted late last month.

The changes are expected to last through June 30, after which a new contract would be negotiated.

Employees now will pay 9 percent of their salaries to their CalPERS retirement fund. They also will pay 2.5 percent of their salaries to fund a benefit cafeteria plan, which provides tax relief for certain types of expenditures, including dental, vision and health care premiums.

In addition, all salaries will be frozen starting July 1.

The city and the Los Banos Police Officers Association met eight times between January and the March 25 vote. During that period, the city provided the union with seven comprehensive proposals; the union countered with five.

In a written statement, the city described the new conditions as being the "best and final" compensation package offered to the union.

After the vote, Mayor Tommy Jones said coming to the decision to decrease net pay of Police Department personnel has taken a toll on him.

"I haven't slept well on this at night and I don't think I will," Jones said. "It comes down to do you lay people off or do you cut (salary). I'd rather cut."

When it faced money issues last year, the council chose to lay off three police officers instead of cutting salaries.

At the March 25 special meeting, the City Council also approved several measures affecting nonunion employees, excluding police sergeants, community service officers and dispatchers.

Police Chief Mark Knapp, whose department includes about 62 people, declined comment on the net pay reduction. Doug Gorman, a police union representative, described the net pay cut in dire terms.

"I think it's a fatal blow to the LBPD. I call this employee terrorism. You're saying if you want to be an officer in Los Banos, you have to pay for your benefits," he said.

"They can't afford that. You're talking the average officer in Los Banos is losing $500 in pay."

Under the new rules, police officers' pay is decreased $105 to $128 per month, depending on which salary step they are on.

The city is trying to close a $1.2 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year as Los Banos continues to be one of the hardest hit areas in the economic recession. Property tax revenue, the city's largest source of income, has dropped in excess of 80 percent.

Sales tax is down more than 30 percent, and commercial property tax is expected to be down after a valuation review is completed by the Merced County assessor's office. The unemployment rate is 23.1 percent.

The terms the city imposed last week have some perks for police. A new work schedule will be adopted, holiday hours will increase, and disciplinary appeal rights are strengthened, according to City Manager Steve Rath. Additionally, employees and families will receive improved dental and vision coverage.