BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto might have to lay off 16 police officers and firefighters if city unions don’t give up their raises. In total, the city plans to lay off 70 employees.
The city is cutting $39 million from the budget for the fiscal year starting in July because tax revenue has plunged due to the economic crash caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
The city’s revised $196 million general fund budget calls for 21 fewer sworn officer positions. Sworn officers mean police and firefighters who wear badges.
Mayor Adrian Fine said at council’s budget meeting last night that several of the 21 positions are vacant. But the 16 positions on the chopping block are new firefighters and officers that the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit. It typically takes a year to train a new police or fire recruit. When the city does layoffs, the last hired is the first fired.
City unions are supposed to get raises worth $5 million on July 1 under previously agreed-upon contracts.
• SEIU will get a 2% bump that will cost the city $1.2 million;
• The police union will get a 3% raise at a cost of $2.2 million;
• And firefighters will get a 3% hike at a cost of $1.4 million.
City Manager Ed Shikada said the city is currently in negotiations with the unions to try and get them to give up the raises.
Council decided to put off any final decisions on police and fire staffing until their June 22 meeting to see if the unions will give up the raises to save more positions.
Another employee group, the managers and professionals, have agreed to a 15% pay cut, saving the city $5.4 million.
Councilwoman Liz Kniss said the city needs support from its employees in negotiations. She said the city doesn’t want to fire new hires.
Councilman Greg Tanaka said it is not good to lay off employees in a terrible job market. He said he hoped the unions would make sacrifices in order to reduce the number of layoffs the city is forced to make.
If the positions are cut, Fine said it would be better to reduce the workforce through retiring officers rather than laying off new hires.
The revised budget calls for the elimination of 74 positions. In addition to the officers, 16 full-time library workers and six full-time workers in the clerk’s office will get the boot. There are 14 unsworn police and fire positions that will be cut, including Police Spokeswoman Janine de La Vega.
City Council added an extra $600,000 to the police and fire budget last week to increase investigations and animal control, and to make sure the police lobby is open for its normal hours.
The council plans to end the Crosstown and Embarcadero shuttles.
All of the city’s libraries will continue operating but will have reduced hours.
The Baylands Interpretive Center at 2775 Embarcadero Road will be open but with half its normal hours.
Council voted last night to keep paying to print council agenda items, at a cost of $35,000, and to keep paying to have meetings transcribed at an additional $35,000. Council also restored full funding, $50,000, to the Youth Connectedness Initiative, a youth service program. The Children’s Theater will continue with reduced productions and increased social distancing.
Council will vote on the final budget on June 22.