After a four-hour meeting punctuated by boos and jeers from the audience, the Santa Paula City Council voted 3 to 2 to give city police a 2% raise for the coming 12 months, but not the retroactive raises the 29-member force wanted.
Union members said they saw the vote as a failure and will go back to the drawing board to see how they can secure more money. They would not rule out the possibility of filing a lawsuit over unfair labor practices but said it was too early to seriously discuss such a step.
Meanwhile, council members said some fee or tax increase--perhaps through a measure on the November 2000 ballot--is necessary if the community is serious about wanting to make the force's salaries comparable with counterparts'.
The police force remains the lowest paid in the county--about 35% less than officers countywide with salaries and benefits taken into consideration, union officials say.
In voting against the majority, council members Richard Cook, a retired city police officer, and Laura Flores Espinosa, a researcher for the county district attorney's office, said they were not opposing police raises but were voting to postpone a decision to see if there was a way to give officers the retroactive raises they sought. Police have been without a raise and a contract since 1997, when negotiations with the city collapsed.
In the meantime, the city signed off on a "me too" clause with a union representing other city employees that would require them to be paid proportionally for any raise over 2% that is awarded to police. The cash-strapped city could not pay that without dipping into the city's reserves.
The union contends the city enacted the clause as a negotiating tool, knowing what effect it could have down the road. Two years of retroactive raises for police alone would cost about $68,000.
Mayor Jim Garfield said beyond Tuesday's vote he is still inclined to support retroactive raises, if the city staff could grant the money to police officers only.
Espinosa said the city's attempt to save money could be moot if state lawmakers pass legislation mandating far higher salary increases than the retroactive raises police were seeking.