DOWNEY – The City Council on Tuesday approved renegotiated contracts with police and firefighters that require employees to pay far more for pension costs and medical insurance.
The vote also cemented a decision to reduce the city’s firefighting force by nine.
Firefighters and police officers will soon have to pay about two-thirds of the “employee contribution” portion of their pension costs. They will also have to pay more for medical insurance. The increase in pension payments for both departments goes up in stages over the next few years.
Police officers also agreed to put off accepting a 4.25 percent raise until the fiscal year that starts in July 2014.
New hires in both departments would have to pay their full “employee contributions.”
The concessions were made in exchange for a vow by the council not to lay off employees during the contract.
While the city has given conflicting numbers on how much the cuts will save, budget documents and the contracts show the combined savings from both departments will add to about $3 million annually when the cuts are fully implemented.
President Steve Davis of the Downey Firemens Association said firefighters and paramedics lost what amounts to about $1,200 in monthly take-home pay.
“We worked hard with city officials to find a short-term solution to Downey’s ongoing budget woes,” he said during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The contract with the firefighters also called for reducing the number of “fire suppression personnel” from 63 to 54 — a move made possible when the city on July 1 took a fire engine out of service from Station 1 on Paramount Boulevard.
Davis criticized the shuttering of the fire engine, saying citizens were at “greater risk in fire and medical emergencies” since the cut would increase response times. Three less firefighters will be on duty each day, he said. He also requested that the city study the possibility of contracting fire service out to the county, saying the city would likely maintain service and reduce the cost to residents.
Councilmen Mario Guerra and Luis Marquez both thanked the firefighters for re-opening negotiations and agreeing to the cuts. Guerra said he would not consider contracting out fire services. Marquez said it was worth looking into contracting if it could save money and maintain service.
The approval of the contracts was the culmination months of negotiations that helped the City Council close an $11 million budget gap. The city the last three years had burned through nearly half of its savings, which once stood at $38 million but is now closer to $24 million. The city in the 2011-2012 fiscal year was hit by decreased property tax income, the loss of redevelopment agencies, increasing pension and healthcare costs, and major reductions in federal funding.
The council 0n June 26 approved a $135 million budget, which was down from a $144 million budget the previous fiscal year.
Cities all over the state are currently feeling the fiscal shock of the recession. Stockton and Mammoth Lakes both voted last month to declare bankruptcy. And San Bernardino on Tuesday also voted to declare bankruptcy.
The financial climate is a marked change from the early 2000s, when cities all over the county and state agreed to pay the employees’ shares of pension costs. Since then, cities all over the state have been rolling back benefits and asking employees to work for more years before they would qualify to collect their pensions.