Layoffs averted in three city employee groups for 2010-11

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — An agreement between the city and its patrol officers and sergeants will avert layoffs while paving the way for other employee groups to do the same while cutting into what would have been a $2.2 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.

The City Council voted late last month to agree to enter into a letter of understanding with the Trenton Police Sergeants, Corporals and Patrol Officer’s Association / Michigan Association of Police, that will set aside holiday pay from July 1 of this year through June 29, 2011, for union members. The group also agreed to forgo a 1 percent wage increase that would have been effective July 1.

The Trenton Inspectors and Lieutenants Association agreed to similar concessions.

In return, the city will rescind layoff notices to bargaining unit members and has agreed to incorporate language saying that any additional budget savings from negotiated concessions or retirements will stay within the Police Department budget. Those savings will not be transferred or used to offset any other departmental budgets or employee groups. The savings also will not be used to offset or reduce any negotiated economic concessions.

A budget presented by Mayor Gerald Brown to the council last month proposed eliminating 15 full-time positions. He cited a looming $2.2 million 2010-11 deficit as the reason for his initial proposal, citing higher costs for police and firefighter pensions, a “downswing” in the city’s investment portfolios and declining tax revenues because of lower property values. The budget also included three fewer nonunion jobs.

Brown said that after making the budget proposal, he went to city employee groups and gave them the numbers he needed in order to avert layoffs in each group. For police, that number was $285,000; for firefighters, $182,000.

As a former police chief and officer in the city, Brown said it was difficult to ask for the concessions.

“And it will be difficult in the future as long as I have this job,” he said. “I’ll have to separate myself. As mayor I‘m in charge of other services, too.

“I felt it was right thing to do. In the economy we’re in we have to make tough decisions.”

Human Resources Director Scott Church said the two police unions’ set-aside consists of a one-time lump sum holiday payment for 13 days that is equivalent to 5 percent of their annual salaries.

Included in the concessions negotiations with police, Brown said, was an incentive for certain people to retire. City officials figured that three command officers might retire, but didn’t count on the potential for five leaving.

Church said Thursday that all five now have filed letters announcing their intent to retire and have seven days to change their minds, per state law.

In addition to the two police groups, International Association of Firefighters Local 2701 also agreed to concessions that Church said were more complicated.

No retirements were part of the firefighters’ agreement. Concessions from the three who had received layoff notices were “not all exactly revenue out of their pockets,” Church said. Some involved budgetary savings to the city, foregoing of benefits. Another was a cap on overtime and an agreement to take compensatory time in lieu of overtime, including some for training.

In the Department of Public Services, proposed cuts included two clerical positions, two laborers and a mechanic, all of whom are still in place. Church said the city has not reached a settlement with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 292, which represents those employees.

He said he is “cautiously optimistic and hopeful.”

“We sure don’t want to lay off anybody,” Church said, emphasizing that he didn’t mean it as a threat.

“It’s just the unfortunate reality of where we are,” he said. “Unless we reach similar concessions with that group of employees, I think layoffs would become a reality.

“The tone has been set.”

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