The city is dealing with a $5.5 million deficit and recently sent out pink slips to nearly a third of the city's police officers. Uniformed officers, their families, and community members filled nearly every seat at the council meeting, pleading with the council to reconsider.
Last Thursday, the city issued 64 pink slips. A dozen went to firefighters and nearly 30 went to sworn police officers. Monday night, Joy Nelson spoke to the council, trying to save her husband's job and support his fellow officers. "They put their lives on the line, something that people have to think about. It's not just a matter of them riding around in a car and them writing tickets when someone passes through a red light," said Nelson.
The pink slips were handed out after the council voted against putting a half cent tax increase on the ballot. Mayor Bill Spriggs said the city has worked for years, trying to save as many police and fire positions they can. Now, there is no easy solution. "Police and fire represent about 72 percent of our general fund expenditure, so that's unfortunately where we have to make the most significant reductions," said Spriggs.
Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade said the cuts will take the department back to staffing levels last seen in the early 1990's. Adrade said there will be an impact on service levels to the community. "There are going to be timing delays that they're not going to be used to. So they're going to have come accustomed to the so called, 'new normal,' said Andrade.
If approved, the police and firefighters would be out of a job in June. Merced's mayor said the city issued the pink slips last week, in order to give employees time to prepare for their future. The extra time was of little comfort to Officer Brian Bowen. He walked into the council meeting using crutches after he was injured chasing a suspect. "My back's against the wall right now. The timing couldn't be worse for me, to get hurt, and then the following week get a lay off notice," said Bowen.
The city council will have a final vote on the pink slips on May 2. If they go forward with them, the layoffs would become effective on June 26.