Seven Watsonville police officers and four city firefighters received layoff notices Thursday afternoon after labor negotiations between the two public safety unions and the city failed to reach an agreement on salary concessions, the city manager reported.
The tentative cuts—which also include an eighth, unfilled police position—come as the city faces a $1.4 million budget deficit that is projected to mushroom as pension costs climb, according to City Manager Carlos Palacios.
“We really have no choice but to do layoffs," Palacios said.
The Watsonville Police Officers Association had no comment Thursday afternoon.
However, Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano issued a brief statement:
"I have remained hopeful throughout negotiations that we could avoid police officer layoffs, especially as we head into what looks to be a very busy summer. But the city's deficit is very real, and we just can't reach our target without impacting positions. It's in everyone's best interest that we find an agreeable solution, and soon, so that we are able to save jobs while continuing to provide the best level of service to our community."
Palacios noted that negotiations about the salary concessions continue—meetings between city leaders and both unions are scheduled for next week—and that the Watsonville City Council must approve the layoff notices before they are official. That meeting is slated for June 14, and the cuts would be official at the end of July.
Six other city employee groups have reached agreements with the city, Palacios said.
“Again, we’re hoping to avoid this," Palacios said. "We’re still negotiating with both unions. We’re hoping we can get to an agreement that can avoid these layoffs.”
City Councilman Emilio Martinez blasted the cuts in his blog Thursday afternoon. Martinez has been critical of city officials' pay, comparing Watsonville salaries to those of Bell, the disgraced Southern California city where officials paid themselves inflated salaries while their working-class community struggled.
"I am of the opinion that we first consider cutting salaries and eliminating some positions, particularly in the city manager and city clerk departments, before we lay off any police officers," Martinez wrote.
The dilemma, according to Palacios, is how to deal with pension costs. City leaders have asked labor unions to absorb some of those costs in the short term and, long-term, go to a two-tiered retirement compensation system.
Like many California municipalities, budget shortfalls in Watsonville in recent years have led to city staff furloughs, cuts to city services and reduced hours at city offices and other facilities.