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Local News

Staff to Present Proposed City Budget Minus Union Concessions

City Administrator Jim Armstrong says for now, measures to make up a $9 million shortfall are likely to include personnel cuts

City staff will present a proposed 2011 budget to the Santa Barbara City Council on April 20 that doesn’t assume any labor concessions that haven’t yet been negotiated.

With no bargaining contracts up as of now, groups have come to the table voluntarily to negotiate concessions with the city. So far, the supervisors union is the only one to reach a tentative agreement, which its members will vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Though he couldn’t discuss specifics of the proposed budget, City Administrator Jim Armstrong said that measures used to balance the budget mostly consist of position cuts because the majority of city expenditures go to salary and benefits.

Every department was asked to put forward a proposal with 12 percent cuts, with public safety departments proposing 10 percent cuts. The cuts would contribute more than the estimated $9 million shortfall but provide options to staff and the council, Armstrong said.

Though sales tax revenues for the first three months of this year won’t be known until June, increasing bed taxes and other revenue sources will chip away at the shortfall, though it won’t change dramatically.

If negotiated concessions go through, some items or positions that were planned to be cut would be restored.

The supervisors union’s tentative agreement has a “me, too clause,” which ensures that its concessions would be no more than the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association’s concessions.

“It’s a pretty good assurance that all bargaining units will have similar if not equal concession packages,” said Victor Garza, a representative of the supervisors union.

Garza, the parking and transportation management program superintendent, had never heard of a bargaining unit using “me, too clauses” in negotiations for concessions, but said he was glad the city was amenable to it.

The Police Officers Association has had a more rocky relationship negotiating with the city, as its initial proposal of $1 million in cuts — or 5 percent — was shot down by the City Council in closed session last week.

Union president Sgt. Mike McGrew said the membership offered 3 percent of their base salaries to go toward retirement, suspend all vacation cash-outs and pay $28 per month into health plans.

“The urgency for us is because the damage is done with officers wondering if they have a job,” he said. Their contract is also the first to expire, on June 30.

He alleged that city staff said 23 staff positions would be cut if an agreement couldn’t be made, as a tactic to get higher concessions.

“It’s not like there is $3 million in extra pencils laying around,” McGrew said.

McGrew has worked with city labor negotiator Kristy Schmidt to help put value on the membership’s concessions, and he said he felt everyone would have been receptive to it.

“If we lose more cops, it’s not even about the job — it’s about what we can do for the community,” he said.

Many programs — such as D.A.R.E. and restorative policing — are manned by one person, so could be in danger with extensive personnel cuts.

Talks with Schmidt were informal, but McGrew said the bargaining unit isn’t going to sit down with the city for formal negotiations.

It’s unusual to accept the first proposal during negotiations, though the city appreciates the POA coming forward, Armstrong said, adding that negotiations have been anything but usual this year — with groups bargaining for concessions rather than pay increases and “me, too clauses.”

“Clearly we felt that wasn’t enough,” he said of the council’s vote against the 5 percent proposal.

In the proposed budget, there are fewer cuts to public safety departments than other departments. For the current fiscal year, nonsafety unions took an unpaid furlough and benefit cuts that the city equated to a 5-percent concession, which is a contributing factor to the “me, too clauses” some unions are seeking to get solidarity.

Negotiations are ongoing with other unions.

“I’m pleased that every bargaining unit is taking this budget deficit very seriously and considering what they can do in terms of salary and benefit concessions to close the budget gap,” Mayor Helene Schneider said in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “That is encouraging, since fewer expenses in that category will result in not having to cut as many services and job positions next year.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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