Money talks …
And Chico’s cops walk away with more pay
Some things we do know, and some things we don’t know.
Thus the city’s administrative services director, Frank Fields, characterized the risk inherent in the $51.2 million draft general fund budget for fiscal year 2015-16 that he presented to the Chico City Council on Tuesday (April 7).
On one hand, Fields said, the city has emerged from the fiscal crisis of the past few years sufficiently to begin hiring again and give raises. On the other hand, its reserves are depleted and a deficit fund balance remains on the books, factors that make such moves risky.
The draft budget estimates both sales and property tax revenues, the city’s two main sources of income, will increase in FY 2015-16 (by 10 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively). That will enable the city to hire six new police officers and two community service officers and offer the police compensation increases as well.
It will also enable the city to fill the equivalent of 10 positions in other areas, including four in community development. There also will be sufficient funds to increase spending on capital projects, from $688,000 this year to $1.2 million in FY 2015-16.
The general fund budget avoids the temptation to dip into other funds for operating costs, a past practice that led to a major deficit. The good news, Fields said, is that the deficit has decreased from $15.2 million to $4.5 million in just two years and is estimated to be $3.6 million in FY 2015-16.
As it is, revenues will exceed expenditures by only $500,000, or 1 percent, in FY 2015-16, Fields said. The city is assuming the country won’t experience another recession during that time, but if it does, “$500,000 is not much of a cushion.”
The council will hold several budget meetings in the coming weeks before adopting a final budget on June 16.
Discussion of the budget Tuesday segued smoothly into the next agenda item, approval of a memorandum of understanding (read: labor contract) with the Chico Police Officers’ Association.
The three-year agreement, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, will increase current employees’ pay by 5 percent in the first year and add 2.5 percent steps in the second and third years. New officers will receive 5 percent more than current pay by the third year.
In return, the police agree to pay 3 percent of the city’s pension contribution.
The package will cost the city about $1.5 million, but council members—with one exception—were convinced it was worth it.
Mayor Mark Sorensen said the city’s desire during negotiations was to attract new officers. He noted that as many as 11 funded positions have gone unfilled this fiscal year because the city couldn’t attract good candidates, and 21 sworn officers have left the city since July 1, 2013. In addition, this year nine officers have been out on workers’ compensation.
What’s more, the city’s salary survey shows Chico’s compensation levels are lower than most of the cities with which they were compared, Sorensen said.
Vice Mayor Sean Morgan argued that ideally Chico should have 83 officers but now has just 42. Not only has the city not attracted officers, those who are here have limited lateral options, thanks to the elimination of specialty programs such as the Gang Unit and the Target Team.
Councilman Randall Stone wasn’t convinced, however. The competitiveness survey done by the city is deeply flawed, he argued. Its comparisons are too narrowly drawn, and it fails to consider many factors that may either attract or repel potential employees.
“There are no factors identifying why officers come to Chico or why they leave,” he said. The city is now meeting its hiring goals, and “this pay raise does nothing to make the city safer.”
As far as Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer was concerned, “You get what you pay for.” She said she wanted officers who are “top notch” and want to put down roots in Chico, not use it as a “stepping stone.”
The MOU was approved 5-1, with Stone dissenting and Councilwoman Tami Ritter absent.
In other council news: Last August, Capt. Mike O’Brien came before the city’s Internal Affairs Committee with a problem: Chico cops were responding to far too many false alarms—3,200 in 2012 alone—and thereby subsidizing alarm companies.
After discussion, the committee instructed City Attorney Vince Ewing to draft an ordinance that included fines levied against alarm companies for false alarms.
The alarm companies then threatened to sue. So Ewing drafted a proposed ordinance that offered two options: fine the companies or fine the alarm users.
On Tuesday, the council chose the latter, approving an ordinance that would mandate that a crime-verification process be in place and also levy false-alarm fines on alarm users: $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $200 for any after that.