City Manager Debra Figone passed on applying for a grant that would have saved the jobs of more than a few dozen San Jose police officers but included some significant costs. According to the Police Officers Association, Figone chose to apply for a federal grant that would fund only 10 officers rather than 53, the maximum allowed. The application deadline for the federal COPS program was Wednesday.
Members of the POA weren’t the only people surprised by the move. It seems Figone did not consult the City Council on her decision to pass on applying for the largest possible grant.
“We’ve had no council discussions that I’m aware of at all, no memos,” said Councilmember Pete Constant, who released a budget proposal on Wednesday that laid out how the city could save the jobs of 97 officers. The proposal included full acceptance of the federal grant.“She’s obviously not required to come to us on the issue, but given the budget situation and the significant number of layoffs … I would have expected some sort of discussion.”
Figone did, however, consult with Police Chief Chris Moore on the decision. With San Jose looking for ways to balance the 10th straight year of a budget shortfall—$115 million for 2011-12—and labor negotiations between the city and POA stalled, Moore recently had to hand out layoff notices to 278 police officers. The number of pink slips is based on assumptions that the police union and the city will not agree to a 10 percent ongoing cut in total compensation.
If an agreement is reached on the cut in pay and benefits, the city has said roughly 100 officers would still likely lose their jobs.
Jim Unland, vice president of the POA, said the union has reached out to U.S. Congressman Mike Honda’s office to see about filing a congressional inquiry with the Department of Justice to determine the city’s options in reapplying for the full grant.
“Our beef with it is, you can apply for 53, you can even be approved for 53, but you could still take only 10,” Unland said. “What they’ve done then is not even try to get the other 43. We just think it’s shortsighted.”
Moore said the financial obligations of accepting the grant persuaded the city to pass, and he agreed with the decision. He estimated the grant would cost the city $17 million over four years.
“We’d all like to have more cops, myself more than anybody, but in order to be fiscally responsible, we’ll go with the numbers we have now,” Moore said. “At this point, the most that we can afford is 10.”
Making the grant difficult to accept is the fact that fiscal years for the city and federal government have a three-month gap (San Jose starts July 1, while the national start date is Oct. 1), which would require bridge money in the interim to fund the officers retained. Also, by accepting the grant money the city would be required to keep officers employed for one year after the three-year contract expires. The grant pays for entry-level officers but can be substituted for officers that would be laid off.
Constant said he plans to move forward with his budget proposals to salvage close to 60 police jobs. Among a long list of ideas, his plan revolves around the elimination of all city boards, commissions and committees that are not listed in the city charter, with only a few exceptions.
“My whole message in all of these budget documents together is we have to stop and focus on what we must do,” Constant said. “I liken it to not wanting to put a tourniquet on a finger cut that’s small. But we have arterial bleeding now and that takes drastic measures.”