|Police–City Stalemate Imperils Fresno's Budget ||06/20/2012
|FRESNO, CA –– An exchange of letters between City Manager Mark Scott and police union chief Jacky Parks has suddenly changed the course of the Fresno City Council's hearings on next year's budget.
The council on Monday morning was to begin making motions to tweak Mayor Ashley Swearengin's proposed 2012–13 budget.
But the council postponed any action until Wednesday after it learned that the Scott–Parks talks–by–mail on police wage/benefit concessions appear to have come up empty.
The council's decision almost certainly signals a major shift in the content of what Swearengin had hoped would be a "status quo" budget.
Council members later this week or next week could find themselves debating as much as $12 million in new cuts to a budget that already has gone through three years of reductions.
Swearengin for weeks has predicted a $16 million general fund budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. She said $4 million could be covered with penny–pinching, but the remaining $12 million must be found in either more cuts or employee wage/benefit concessions.
More than 80% of the general fund budget is spent on employee compensation. The police receive by far the biggest slice of this pie.
Unlike most city unions, the police have a contract with a lot of life still in it. The deal runs through June 30, 2015, although the no–furlough, no–demotion provision expires June 30, 2014.
Swearengin wants the police to agree to concessions that provide $4 million to $4.5 million in savings to next year's general fund. But the concessions must be voluntary, since the police have that contract in place.
The FPOA is the city's strongest union and Parks is well–known as a tough negotiator.
Parks has suggested a package of give–backs that would produce about $4.2 million in savings next year as well as the permanent elimination of a wellness program that would save the city about $800,000 annually.
In return, Parks said, he wants a one–year contract extension to 2016. He has said repeatedly that his members are unlikely to agree to give up millions of dollars without something of value in return.
Swearengin's Fiscal Sustainability Policy, recently adopted by the City Council, identifies long–term union contracts as harmful to the city's financial health.
Swearengin and Scott have made no secret that they might declare a fiscal emergency if the police don't come through. Such a declaration could make the police contract more open to revision but also could lead to a long court battle with unions.
All of this was bubbling in the background as the council last week held a handful of hearings on the 2012–13 budget. The hearings had a ceremonial air about them. Swearengin's budget assumes the needed concessions will materialize. But the council couldn't weigh in on the budget with authority until it had a better sense of where the FPOA talks were headed.
Monday's 15–minute meeting showed that the minds of council members and the administration have been greatly focused by a review over the weekend of the Scott–Parks letters. The council has a closed–door meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss what to do next.
Scott told the council Monday that Swearengin and the budget staff will prepare what he called a "Plan B" budget that identifies a new round of cuts and savings.
It's unclear when Plan B would be made public or if it would be so dramatically different as to require another day or two of hearings.
Scott's letter to Parks is dated June 12. Scott repeats what he and Swearengin have said for weeks: The city has severe cash–flow problems, the police are where most of the money goes, contract extensions are a thing of the past and everyone would be grateful if the FPOA would agree to unilateral concessions.
Hostetter, George. "Police–City Stalemate Imperils Fresno's Budget". The Fresno Bee. June 18, 2012. http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/06/18/2878935/police–city–stalemate–imperils.html