Mayor, San Jose City
Lay off city workers and cut services or protect services and preserve jobs by controlling costs: That’s the choice the San Jose City Council faced in 2011 as we confronted a 10th consecutive budget deficit.
A council majority voted to control costs and adopted a Fiscal Reform Plan that saves more than $100 million per year when fully implemented and prevents the city from sliding into service-delivery insolvency.
It’s been painful for city employees who took a 10 percent pay cut and now will have to contribute more toward their retirement or accept a more modest pension formula for future years of service. Yet they continue to serve with care and professionalism, and for that, we thank them.
These reforms mean that we can begin planning to restore critical service, starting with our police department. We have some of the best officers in the country, but years of spiraling costs have left the department understaffed and reduced its ability to respond to and investigate crimes. This is compounded by baby boomers reaching retirement eligibility, like Chief Chris Moore, who announced his retirement.
My top priority is to add officers and rebuild capacity. Here’s how we can do it:
• Recruit aggressively. Sixty recruits begin training this month and several hundred applicants are in process for next spring’s academy. This will help bring us back to full authorized staffing levels.
• Return officers to the street. The City Auditor has identified 60 positions that could be civilianized, freeing officers for patrol, investigations and crime suppression. Neighboring cities use Community Service Officers and Reserve Officers more than San Jose. Chief Chris Moore recommends using a background investigation firm to screen recruits, as many departments do. Unfortunately, the police union has refused to meet and confer on the issue.
• Use savings from pension reform and fiscal reforms to increase the size of our police force and restore services to at least January 2011 levels.
The spiraling costs have forced cuts year after year. We have fewer officers than 10 years ago, even with a nearly $100 million increase in the police budget. We would have had to lay off 150 more if our police officers hadn’t agreed to the 10 percent pay reduction last year.
Still, we must acknowledge that some officers are retiring early or leaving for other departments. While San Jose remains a competitive employer, with salaries comparable to most other large California cities and one of the more generous retiree health care plans, we can do more.
• We will pursue performance-based raises to retain experienced employees.
• We will consider retention bonuses or targeted pay increases for hard-to-fill positions.
• And we will continue working with the IRS to allow current employees to choose a pension plan that costs less for them and the city.
However, across-the-board raises will have to wait.
Public safety is our top priority. And as San Jose returns to fiscal sustainability and obtains savings from reforms, we will hire more officers to patrol our neighborhoods and solve crimes.