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Oakland considers new revenue to rehire 80 laid-off officers

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Oakland lays off 80 police officers
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: City of Oakland and police union to meet Thursday to discuss revenue options
  • NEW: Drop in real estate transfer tax revenue added to crisis
  • City considers putting tax or fees on ballot to rehire 80 laid-off police officers
  • Budget troubles are forcing city services to shut down 12 days through April 1, 2011

Oakland, California (CNN) -- The cash-strapped city of Oakland, California, may turn to voters to raise enough money to rehire laid-off 80 police officers and prevent the loss of perhaps 122 additional positions.

"We need more police officers. We cannot afford it," Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner said Wednesday.

Brunner will meet Thursday with Dominique Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, to discuss ways to bring in enough money that could take the 696-member force back to nearly 800.

One ballot plan would add a $1-a-day tax on land parcels, raising about $50 million. Brunner says other options are a utility fee on phones or a .25-cent sales tax. Each of those would bring in about $8 million. The city also may try to amend a current funding source known as Measure Y that sets a minimum on the number of officers.

Negotiations between the city and the officers' union collapsed Tuesday over the issue of job security, costing 80 officers their jobs. Oakland's final offer to the Oakland Police Officers Association guaranteed one year of no layoffs, with union members paying an escalating percentage of their city pension, topping out at 9 percent in January 2013. The city would have saved about $7.8 million a year.

The police union was insisting on job security through a "no-layoff" guarantee for three years.

The city said Tuesday it still hopes to work with the police union "to support ballot measures in the November election which will help provide additional funding to pay for the 80 officers who will be leaving the force effective today as well as to avoid laying off an additional 122 officers effective January 1, 2011, as per the recently passed budget resolution."

"Given the City's financial situation, it would have been financially irresponsible for the City to consider any 'no layoff' guarantee in excess of one year," said Oakland's website.

The union said it was disappointed by the city's decision, after some members gave back salary and "half of our scheduled pay raise" to keep officers in their jobs.

"Losing four officers last year was a shock to us all, and we haven't really recovered from that yet. And now we are losing another 80 officers this year, not by the hand of a gun but by the hand of a pen," said Arotzarena.

Arotzarena said the union wants to be part of discussions on ballot initiatives.

"At the end of the day we need a long-term fix, he said Wednesday. "This is far from over."

Mayor Ron Dellums supports the pursuit of other revenue to bring the police number back to the 803 goal he established, press secretary Karen Boyd said Wednesday.

Boyd says a drop in real estate transfer tax revenue of $80 million to $28 million over five years has put the city in dire straits. The general fund has likewise shrunk from $476 million to about $407 million, she said.

The police union posted on its website an open letter to members of the Oakland City Council.

"By all accounts, including the Alameda County Grand Jury, the Oakland Police Department is woefully understaffed and these cuts, regardless of the public rhetoric, are devastating to the people of Oakland and dangerous to the police officers working the streets," the letter said.

"The City Council needs to do more than just target our police officers. The Oakland Police Officers Association has done its share to tighten our belt and make sacrifices to assist our fellow citizens in Oakland. Our city deserves the kind of police protection that promises a safe community and allows us to build a healthy tax base," said the union's letter.

Budget problems have forced many cutbacks in Oakland. The city says it and its civilian employee unions agreed on 12 business closure days through April 1, 2011, to balance the 2009-2011 budget, the first of which was July 2. On those days, Oakland is suspending administrative and other city services, except for police, fire and emergency services. About 75 percent of the city's budget goes for public safety.

Brunner said she will have a revenue proposal for City Council next week.