San Jose closes $118M budget gap


San Jose spends more than half of its general fund on the police and fire departments.

/*Mayor Chuck Reed*/ says it's time for public safety officers to do what most of the other unions have done -- take a 10 percent cut in compensation to save jobs and city services.

This week is critical for the two public safety unions as they have meetings scheduled with city staff on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to try and come to some sort of agreement to avoid layoffs. Any concessions coming from the police union will save police jobs and the same is true for the firefighters union.

The city manager's budget allows for $295 million for the police department's 1,362 sworn positions. The budget calls for spending close to $152 million for the fire department and its 739 firefighting positions. Of course, those budgets also cover the costs of operations, equipment and other personnel.

Still, Reed says in this economic recession, with other unions giving back to save jobs, it's time for public safety officers to do the same.

"The average cost of a police officer and a firefighter has gone up by 99 percent over the last 10 years. The average cost is over $180,000 per year," says Reed.

The president of the San Jose firefighters' union argues the 10 percent request from the city actually amounts to a 15 percent cut in pay when you take into account the impact on benefits. The firefighter's union has offered to give up 7.5 percent of their base pay to save services, however that is not enough to save the 85 positions in jeopardy.

The president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, George Beattie, says the wages for police positions are to keep pace with the private sector and to stay competitive with other Bay Area police departments. He also says San Jose is one of the most understaffed big city police departments in the country and layoffs would jeopardize public safety.

"We're turning out less officers on the street on a daily basis, so what that means is that when you call, it's going to take us longer to get there," says Beattie.

The mayor says residents made it clear they didn't want another year where libraries and community centers took the brunt of the budget cuts. Some layoffs will be avoided by the sheer fact that more officers are opting for an early retirement.

"I have 29 years, just four months shy of my 30 year anniversary. I would have like to stay until the end of the year, but because of other considerations that's why I decided to leave now," says one officer.

Police officer and fire department retirements could help solve some of the budget gap. The mayor has said in a worst case scenario, 144 police positions are at stake and 85 firefighting positions.

If an agreement is not reached by Aug. 1 and the layoffs take place, successful negotiations could result in some people being called back.

In addition, 70 janitor jobs are being outsourced to help lower the city's payroll.

Union custodians currently employed by the city earn up to $23 an hour.

The new janitors will make about half that -- less than $13 an hour.

The changes will shave $4 million off San Jose's record $118 million deficit.

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