Aurora police union faces salary cuts or layoffs

Monday, November 01, 2010

Aurora officials are offering their police union a painful choice: either take more than $2 million in cuts to salaries and benefits or accept between 20 and 25 layoffs.

City officials say they want to cut 10 percent from personnel costs for each group of employees as part of efforts to offset a projected $18 million budget deficit for 2011.

For the city’s patrol officers in the Association of Professional Police Officers union, that translates into the option of layoffs or pay cuts.

The union opposes both choices, said President David Schmidt, a second shift patrol officer.

“They made it clear that this was basically take it or leave it and we told them we’re not going to take it,” Schmidt said Friday.

The union agreed to about $875,000 in concessions for the 2010 budget year by halving pay for uniform stipends and in-service time before shifts, according to union and city officials. Schmidt said the union was told this year’s concessions were a one-time fix.

“Last year, when we were looking at the budget situation, there was a hope that it would get better,” said Carie Anne Ergo, Aurora’s chief management officer. “To my knowledge, at no time did anyone say ‘OK, you’re never going to have to make a concession again.’”

Union representatives sat down Thursday with Chief Greg Thomas and the city’s chief administrative services officer, Alex Alexandrou, to begin negotiations concerning possible concessions, Schmidt said. The union and the city also are in the process of renegotiating the APPO contract, which expired in March.

Schmidt said union members believe Mayor Tom Weisner and his staff are contributing to the budget crunch by using money for unnecessary projects such as reconstruction of the Wood Street bridge and improvements to Phillips Park.

“Obviously we don’t want to take layoffs,” Schmidt said. “What we’re saying is the mayor needs to stop doing the discretionary spending because he’s creating the problem.”

Ergo said Wood Street bridge reconstruction was an important public infrastructure project, paid for with $2.8 million of federal funds and $720,000 in city money. Phillips Park improvements, including a skate and BMX park and a dog park currently in the works, were funded with $400,000 in state grant money, and a matching amount from the city’s general fund and Ward Three funds, she said.

“The city is audited every year. Every year the auditors have never found an indication of misappropriation of funds,” Ergo said. “What the city spends is public record every year and it’s not up to just a whim or discretion of the mayor’s office. It’s balancing needs across the city.”

And maintaining a police force that can effectively protect the community is one of those needs.

“Having to reduce any number of officers is going to be a concern for us,” Ergo said. “So, certainly, it will have an impact. The goal of the mayor and the goal of the police chief is going to be minimizing that impact.”

The police department is authorized to employ 247 patrol officers. Schmidt said the department has been operating with 234 officers after 13 positions were eliminated through attrition. That gives the department a ratio of about 1.5 officers for every 1,000 Aurora citizens, while the national average is about 2.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens, he said.

But Ergo said city figures show the department is operating with 236 patrol officers after 11 positions were eliminated through attrition. She added the department has only five fewer officers on street patrol duties because six officers were removed from security patrol at Hollywood Casino and reassigned.

“If people realized how few officers are out on the street to answer calls, they’d be appalled,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said police union members will meet Tuesday to discuss their next step in protesting the salary and benefit cuts or layoffs the city says are necessary.