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    "Find Another Way" Group Tells Council Don't Cut Cops' Compensation; City Manager, Two Councilmembers Respond

    (November 12, 2003) -- Sporting red tee shirts saying "Find Another Way," members of a community group reiterated concerns voiced by the LB Police Officers Association and urged the City Council to find alternatives to cutting police salaries and increasing employee paid costs as part of deficit reduction actions.

    Using the period for public comment on non-agendized items, over half a dozen speakers sounded consistent themes in a uniformly polite tone of voice. Speakers said cutting police salaries would encourage current and prospective LBPD officers to take jobs elsewhere, thinning LB's thin blue line, hurting police morale and ultimately harming public safety.

    Some group members offered cost cutting suggestions to which Councilwoman Laura Richardson and City Manager Jerry Miller responded positively. However City Manager Miller indicated that LB City Hall now faces a structural deficit of $105 million dollars (ultimately stemming from Council approved spending exceeding revenue) that will require cuts of $30 million in the current (FY04) budget year...and $30 million more the next year (FY05).

    Only two Councilmembers spoke -- 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson and Vice Mayor Frank Colonna. (Councilmembers Lowenthal and Baker were absent.)

    Our extended excerpts below are unofficial, prepared by us; not all speakers or their comments are indicated; ellipses indicate deletions.

    R. Mike Wilson: ...When I saw what you folks are planning to do with your budget, I could not stand by and do nothing. We cannot have the morale of our public safety officers diminished by not only asking them to work five years without raise, but then in the middle of that cut their salaries by an average of $5,500 dollars...And so I'm here to ask you to find another way to do that.

    ...[points to large envelope, sent by City Hall]. This is sent to me every month. The postage on this alone is $1.09. Sounds like nothing, doesn't it? But in my business, if you take care of the pennies, the dollars seem to take care of themselves. We have, I believe, a lot of waste, redundancy and other things that are being done. These things could have been put on the net, and if I want to copy 'em, I could have copied them off...

    ...By taking the people that run the city, and that's where the rubber meets the road, that's the cops, the firemen, actually the city employees, and messing with their morale is not something that I can live with.

    So I want you to find another way, and if you can't, then we'll be back...

    Robert Anderson...I'm the chairman of EPAC, the eastside police advisory committee...but I come to you tonight as a citizen and a businessman...My interest in this has been longstanding...My brother was a deputy Sheriff...and he died from injuries from the job, and he taught me about how important morale is to the police department and public safety people, fire people also, and how it's tied to pay, and also performance, and retention and even attraction of those people, it's all tied together.

    Pay is how we express to these valuable people how much we appreciate the work that they do...

    David Hensler [sp]: ...130 officers is what the Chief [of Police] has told you you need. And Long Beach officers being some of the best around, they're the best trained, they've got great experience, and within 20 miles of the city of Long Beach there are ten other police departments that pay significantly more in pay and benefits that would love to have the Long Beach officer on their force. And if we go in the direction we're going, that's where a lot of out officers are going...

    ...For the first time that I am aware of, lateral training of seven officers had to be cancelled, because the seven officers that were going to transfer over [from other departments] and become Long Beach police officers, when they heard of the budget cuts, they all left. So that's your first indication that you're going to have a hard time recruiting the 130 officers, and with new projects coming online downtown, it's going to stretch an already stretched department even further...

    After group members had finished their presentations, city management and some Councilmembers responded in a similarly polite tone.

    Councilwoman Laura Richardson: ...[cites several points expressed by speakers, asks city manager for comment, then adds]...I think a lot of us have worked really hard over the last couple of years through the budget deliberations that we have had to say that public safety is number one, and we've been pretty consistent about that.

    And we've also said that in addition to that, another priority of ours is youth and senior programs, because oftentimes if you cut youth activities, youths don't have anything positive to do, then you're going to have public safety problems.

    So I do understand the analogy of a cut in pay can in turn impact the police force that we have, so I do understand that. But I just want it to be clear for the people who are here, I have never made a statement of not in support of public safety, never made a statement of cutting public safety, so when I hear some of these comments, it's kind of...a great concern.

    So what I'd like to request Mr. Miller, if possible, is at one of our Budget Oversight Committee meetings that we have [Councilwoman Richardson chairs the committee] if we could invite the members, the people who are present, invite the POA [Police Officers Ass'n] and anybody who would like to participate in this process. If there's something we're missing, that we're not aware of, if there's additional information that we need to review that is impacting our budget, that people would have an opportunity early on to present that to us...

    City Manager Miller: ...I do think that maybe a full hearing of these comments at the Budget Oversight Committee might be an appropriate forum. We could ensure that we have budget staff there, and PD staff, and go through this in some detail.

    Because the challenge is, as you know, very difficult. And the solutions all appear to be pretty unsatisfactory. It's a very complicated situation. This city simply doesn't have the money to keep up with the cost of government, and I don't know of any easy way out of this.

    ...I appreciate the spirit in which you've [public speakers] made your comments tonight and I'd like to be able to work with you. If there's something that we haven't addressed, we'd like to be able to address it.

    I think it is important to sort of clarify that when you talk about the general fund budget, you can't forget that 74% of every dollar is spent on staff and personnel costs, so you are talking about people and we recognize that.

    It's also important to remember that 60% of all of our expenditures in the general fund are for public safety. 40% are for the police department which has grown by 10% since 1990, so it's very important that we have this discussion.

    This by the way is not a situation which is unique to Long Beach. I think the entire state of California frankly grappling with [this], L.A. County is grappling with this as we speak, a number of communities are, or will be, it's very sure that that's going to happen.

    Mr. Wilson, you've offered your help and I think that we should accept that help, and I'd love to work with you. It seems like you are an experienced businessperson and we need that help to find another way, as you say. And I think that we've tried in the last year to find ways other than affecting public safety or our employees, but it's been, as I said, quite difficult...

    Unfortunately, it's not another way that's going to help us, but additional ways. We need to go beyond that that's proposed, because we have to make $30 million in the general fund reductions in the current fiscal year 04, and if we succeed, our great reward for that is coming back the next year and making an additional $30 million in reductions. We have a $105 million structural deficit...

    We have about $40 million in added costs to PERS, 2/3 of which are public safety, coming due in the coming two years, that's $40 million [in costs] that we didn't have in previous years because we were superfunded in PERS.

    As you know, we're also trying to counterbalance that with a loss of $35 million in what was our largest revenue source, the utility user tax, that is almost gone, that is the 50% reduction is almost completed.

    We've had in the last year a $15 million increase in workers compensation and health costs, and that applies to all of our employees and it's really something which is virtually out of control.

    And then of course we have a lot of new public safety building, facilities, that we have encumbered debt on, and we have a $6.6 million annual debt service just on our public safety facilities.

    That gets us $96 million of the $105 million shortfall. So I think it's pretty easy to see how we got there. We don't take public safety lightly. We are not intending to devastate the police department. That is the last thing we are going to do.

    And it's also important to remind you that we've made a huge investment in public safety. We've just completed our Emergency Communications and Operations Center. We have a substantial rehabilitation of the public safety building, an earthquake retrofit...[cites others]

    We have not shirked away from equipment requirements. We have two state of the art helicopters which are now in service which we gladly supported. We have a fleet of new motorcycles that we've just paid for...

    And perhaps most importantly, over the last fiscal year, we've added a number of new officers to the police department. I don't think there's ever been a time in Long Beach history where you've had more sworn police officers and we hope to increase it as time goes on.

    In fact, we've had 176 officers added to this police department since 1994, that's an increase of about 22% I believe, perhaps even larger...

    ...I have looked to try to achieve some level of employee participation. Employees don't pay anything for the cost of their retirement program. They don't pay anything for the cost of their health insurance. I would like to try to negotiate with the employee group some level of employee contribution, even a very small level of contribution when applied to the entire base of 5,000 employees yields very substantial benefits...

    And I'd like to see us add 130 police officers very much. The cost for that is $30 million which frankly this Council doesn't have.


    Vice Mayor Frank Colonna [presiding in Mayor's absence for entire meeting]:...And I want to comment that I appreciate you all of you coming out, taking part of your lives to understand how important public safety is for every one of us here in our city. We're going to do the best job we can to make sure that we have the best police department in the entire state. So this Council is not asleep on that. I think that like you, that we want a safe city and we want the best department ever. We think we've got one of the best police chiefs and we think we've got one of the best city managers to help us get through this

    So thank you for coming though tonight, I appreciate all of you being here, taking part of your lives to come and visit us, so thank you.

    City management's three year plan to reduce City Hall's deficit (Council authorized spending exceeding revenue) doesn't single out LBPD for cuts but calls for reducing city employee costs in total by 10% (roughly $23 million).

    As previously reported by, city management and the LB Police Officers Association recently agreed to a short contract that lasts until the end of June 2004...expiring after voters cast ballots deciding the fate of incumbents seeking reelection in Council districts 2, 4, 6 and 8. LBPOA president Steve James told city management would not agree to a longer contract.

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