City Hall is the Place to Protest Monday

The question of whether to continue hiring more police officers is expected to be at the center of Monday's City Council debate on the city's proposed $7 billion budget, while city employees will rally against projected layoffs.

The rally will include a "truck parade" around City Hall.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

According to union officials, the Coalition of City Unions worked with the mayor and city officials for more than a year on a plan that would have minimized service cuts and avoided layoffs and furloughs by taking advantage of workers contributions and an early retirement program.

They say it would have streamlined the city workforce, prioritized services, benefited businesses and improved public safety compared to the budget under consideration.

"The mayor abruptly abandoned such a plan last week, setting the course for devastating layoffs and untargeted service cuts with which the City Council must now grapple, according to a statement released by the coalition.

The coalition includes six unions representing nearly 22,000 city workers.

Since taking office, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has pushed an aggressive plan to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD, which is significantly understaffed compared to departments in other major cities like New York and Chicago.

The Los Angeles City Council has twice increased the fee homeowners pay for garbage collection. Though that money cannot be earmarked, it was sold to Angelenos as a way to pay for more cops. It costs $100,000 to hire a new police officer.

With the hiring plan in place, the LAPD reached a milestone in March with 9,895 sworn personnel -- more officers than at any other time in the department's history. However, the costly business of hiring police officers is colliding with a $529 million deficit in the city's budget.

To reduce that shortfall by $326 million, a divided Budget and Finance Committee voted earlier this week to stop hiring more officers, in addition to laying off 800 civilian employees and requiring the remaining employees to take 26 unpaid "furlough" days throughout the fiscal year.

Freezing hires in the police department could result in 520 fewer officers on the streets over the next year because retiring officers would not be replaced.

The 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Bernard Parks, Greig Smith and Bill Rosendahl in favor of freezing hires, drew an angry response from Villaraigosa.   "When you see the ire and the anger here, what the ... budget committee
didn't do is look at the fat. There is fat here and there is fat that we've got to cut, particularly when you're looking at cutting cops and firefighters," Villaraigosa said.

The mayor said that fewer cops would mean more crime, and police Chief William Bratton said he would pull officers out of police stations on the Westside, an area represented by Rosendahl, who has weathered much of the criticism.

Rosendahl is usually seen as an ally of the mayor and his vote caught many at City Hall off guard. He said that claims of higher crime were scare tactics and demanded an apology from Bratton for using his constituents as "hostages" in the policy debate over finances.

Much of the budget is in limbo while city officials meet with employee unions to find ways to save money on personnel costs. Earlier this month, the council authorized the Personnel Department to begin the process of identifying 1,600 positions that can be eliminated from city departments.

Of those 1,600 positions, 400 are filled. It can take as long as six months to lay off a city worker, and because of the city's complicated firing system, the council's action does not necessarily mean that any employees will lose their jobs.

The mayor has said that as many as 2,800 layoffs may be needed to balance the budget if unions do not agree to furloughs, higher pension contributions and reduced health benefits.

Union representatives were pushing for early retirement -- instead of unpaid vacations or firings -- that would have allowed employees to add 5 years of credit onto their pensions.

Because pension benefits are based on the number of years an employee works, the proposal, which could have affected as many as 2,300 workers, would have cost the city $850 million over 15 years.

An alternate proposal put forward by the mayor more closely resembles a buyout, which would provide specifically identified employees with a one-time check for 40 percent of their salary. 

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