Monday, June 18 , 2018, 11:41 am | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Armstrong Responds to Claims from Police Officers Association

Santa Barbara's city administrator counters union allegations regarding staffing, pay and other issues

Firing back about recent allegations from the Police Officers Association, Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong released a statement Friday addressing some of the group’s claims, calling them “inaccurate.”

Union representatives have said they believe the Police Department has been the victim of unfair decreases in staffing and pay, among other allegations.

Armstrong maintains that the department has seen a 50 percent budget increase since he joined city staff in 2002, and that the only department to see a higher increase is the Fire Department, which has seen a 76 percent increase.

“In contrast, the Parks and Recreation Department and the library’s general fund budgets have increased only 26 percent during this time,” his statement said.

An example given was that a top police officer earned $58,658 in 2002, while the city paid pension costs of 23 percent, amounting to $72,149.

“Today, a top-step police officer earns $86,169 in base pay, and the city pays an additional 40.1 percent for retirement, or a total cost of $120,636,” Armstrong said. “Members of the police union pay nothing toward retirement. That is an increase of 67 percent over the past eight years.

“These large wage and benefit increases were financed by allocating greater amounts of tax revenue to the Police Department and carefully thought-out staff reductions as vacancies occurred.”

Federal grant funding for certain positions also has evaporated, and those positions have remained vacant, Armstrong said. Automating functions such as dispatch and record also has helped streamline positions, and the department has been relieved of disaster coordination, which has been taken over by the Fire Department and nonsworn personnel.

The Police Officers Association has hired an economist to conduct an independent investigation of the city’s finances and will report back in the next several weeks with his findings. POA representatives have said there could be monies used from other parts of the general fund for police efforts.

Armstrong said that while there were reserves there and in service funds, “it would not be prudent to deplete these monies further to cover ongoing expenses. In fact, between 2004 and 2008, the city depleted nearly $10 million of general fund budgetary reserves primarily to fund wage and benefit increases granted to city employees, exceeding available revenues. In the past two years, an additional $3 million of workers compensation reserves have been transferred to the general fund.”

Noozhawk published a story Thursday about allegations that police call times are slower than reported because of their classification. Armstrong said it would be best to have the police chief and deputy police chief respond. He said he had complete confidence in their management and integrity.

Police Chief Cam Sanchez declined to respond to Noozhawk’s requests for comment, but Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix denied that response times had been altered because of their priority status. “There is zero effort to manipulate that data to artificially adjust that downward,” he told Noozhawk.

A point of contention that has come up in multiple reports is the claim that the city pays $300 to its internal services department for an oil change.

Armstrong said that was “an unfair comparison” because patrol cars are highly specialized vehicles, and the car involved in the example was a high-mileage vehicle that needed a full preventive maintenance inspection from a mechanic.

“The city’s shop rates for maintenance are similar to those charged by private-sector maintenance providers in the community,” he said.

Armstrong ended the statement by expressing his support for the department and the work its officers do to serve the community.

“I hope that the police union negotiating team will return to the bargaining table and work with us to achieve the necessary savings which will help us balance the city’s budget and increase police staffing in the next year,” he said.

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

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