Fresno fiscal fight escalates between police and mayor

FRESNO, Calif.

"We can no longer afford costly contract extensions," said Mayor Ashley Swearengin. "We simply cannot afford it."

The battle is coming to a head after the city asked police for concessions to balance the budget. The union offered to give back the money, but only if they got an extension on their contract with the city -- a contract negotiated before the recession took hold.

The police union's contract is good until 2015. When it expires, the city can impose its own terms on the union, as long as the city council backs the mayor and city manager. But until then, they're asking for something for nothing.

Swearengin and city manager Mark Scott are standing strong on the city's new position to avoid contract extensions with employees' unions.

A one-year extension is the sticking point keeping the city from accepting $4.1 million in cuts to salaries and benefits this year from the police officers' union.

"There's a sweetener on the table and it looks like it might be good," said Swearengin. "It's really not contributing to the health of the city so we're going to say 'No.'"

Four council members are backing up the mayor's position, saying the contract extension is an expensive way to save money now.

"They want to give back pennies to get back dollars and what we know the cost of extending their contract another year that was established in 2007 is somewhere in excess of $10 million," said council member Larry Westerlund.

"That's not truthful," countered Fresno Police Officers' Association president Jacky Parks. "What it's going to cost them is to have to wait 12 more months to potentially take away $10 million."

Parks and the union have agreed to concessions in the past, but usually with a contract extension as the incentive. Police agencies across the state have recently agreed to similar budget-related cuts.

Fresno County sheriff's deputies gave concessions of 6% last year to the county, and CHP officers gave the state 5% this year. Both unions received something on the back end for giving up salary now. But city leaders want Fresno officers to take the cuts without anything in return.

"We think it's the right thing to do," said city manager Mark Scott. "We think it's right for the public. We've been cutting services. We've been cutting staffing."

Salaries and benefits for officers have climbed more than 40% since 2007. Meanwhile, city council members have seen their pay packages rise by about 50%.

Council president Clint Olivier said today he's not planning to ask fellow council members to take any cuts beyond the 5% they gave back this past year.

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