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Police and firefighter compensation: Q&A with L.A. 5th District City Council candidates

Those vying for the seat in the March 3 primary discuss their view on pay raises or increased benefits for such public safety employees.

February 15, 2009|William Nottingham

With the city of Los Angeles expected to face a $400-million to $500-million deficit in the 2009-10 fiscal year as the national economy continues to sour, Times editors asked 5th District City Council candidates in the March 3 primary how they would handle negotiations with key public safety employees.

Here are excerpts from their answers to this question:

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In June, the city's contracts with police and firefighters unions will expire. Should police officers and firefighters be given raises or increased benefits? If so, how would you pay for those, given the city's current financial condition?

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Adeena N. Bleich: "Our city's police officers and firefighters are our city's heroes. . . . The City Council must do everything in its power to preserve current wages and benefits for police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel. At the same time, it would be irresponsible to implement any additional spending now. In the midst of such staggering deficits for the city and state, and with so many people losing income, we must all consider what part we can play to reverse this fiscal downturn."

Ron Galperin: "I believe we must ensure that those who are protecting our families and property receive strong benefits and pay to honor their important jobs. I also believe we must make it easier and more affordable for first responders to live in the city of Los Angeles."

Paul Koretz: "I certainly believe that firefighters and police officers should be fairly compensated and that the city should be paying competitive salaries to allow us to attract and retain highly trained public safety employees. Given the current economic situation, I would ask the unions representing police and firefighters to work with the city to develop plans that would allow us to live within our budgetary constraints. If given the opportunity to participate and have meaningful input, I know city employees will be constructive and responsible."

Robert Schwartz: "I believe our police officers and firefighters deserve increased pay and benefits. However, this would be an extremely difficult time to provide those. I know City Council members don't become directly involved in labor negotiations. But as a successful business and finance executive the past 30 years, I often was called upon to work with labor and management to forge creative and fair solutions to difficult challenges."

Robyn Ritter Simon: "Compared to other major cities, Los Angeles has a small police force to protect nearly 4 million people spread out over nearly 500 square miles. I strongly support Chief [William J.] Bratton's efforts to put more officers on the streets to reduce crime and protect our neighborhoods. We need competitive pay and benefit packages to attract and retain quality police officers and firefighters. . . . I strongly support fair compensation and benefits such as affordable housing to allow officers to live closer to the communities that they serve. I also support incentives to join the LAPD. Public safety is one of the fundamental functions of city government and must remain our top priority in the city budget."

David T. Vahedi: "For many years, our police and fire officers have been paid less than their counterparts in other agencies across the state and nation. Unfortunately, with this current budget, we will not be able to cure the inequity that exists. But after speaking to both groups' representatives, I believe that they understand that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to grant raises this year. . . . I also want to specify one area that we cannot cut back on any further. Over the last several years, police and firefighters injured on the job while protecting us have been having greater difficulty receiving both medical benefits and pay while injured. This is unacceptable. . . . When they are injured, it is our turn to stand up and protect them."

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bill.nottingham@latimes.com

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