The union representing Santa Barbara city firefighters tentatively agreed to cuts valued at 5.5 percent of their salary, saving the City of Santa Barbara $726,000 the first year and another $420,000 the second year. In exchange, City Hall has agreed not to shut down a fire station for the next two years. It has also agreed to maintain existing staffing levels. Union spokesperson Tony Pighetti hailed the agreement, which has yet to be ratified by the membership, as a victory for the community, but expressed dissatisfaction at the process by which the agreement was achieved. “This was a frustrating and very-far-from-perfect process,” he said. Although the firefighters’ contract does not expire until the end of the year, the union agreed to forgo a 3-percent wage hike to which its members were entitled. In addition, the union agreed that its members would pay a small percentage into their own retirement benefits. City administrators — scrambling to deal with a projected budget shortfall of $9 million — have worked to win wage concessions from the bargaining units representing city employees. The firefighters have made a point to maintain a cooperative posture in their dealings with City Hall, while the Police Officers Association has been more hard-line.
This week’s mediation talks between city and police-union negotiators — the second — proved fruitless. Another session is scheduled for next Monday. The Police Officers Association (POA) has insisted that City Hall has more than $100 million in reserves and that no cuts are necessary. The POA is now claiming that City Finance Director Bob Samario has rebuffed its efforts to secure public budget records that might prove its point. Samario countered that he’s gone above and beyond the spirit or letter of what the law requires. He said he’s already conceded that the city has $29 million in reserves. He and City Adminstrator Jim Armstrong have argued against using onetime funds to cover ongoing expenses, like police salaries. If the firefighters’ contract is ratified by union members, this would leave the POA as the sole holdout among city unions. Given that the firefighters agreed to a 5.5 percent package of cuts — not the 11, 8, 7.4, 7, and 6.3 percent previously demanded, though at various times — this might open the door to a settlement between City Hall and the POA.