With very little fanfare Wednesday night, the Bakersfield City Council approved the first contract, including pay raises, that Bakersfield police officers have had since 2007.
Officers represented by the Bakersfield Police Officers' Association and city staff have clashed over the last several years in trying to come to an agreement. Police union representatives have demanded an overall 12 percent pay increase paid both retroactively and going forward. City administrators and council members have said that increase is unaffordable, especially in an economic downturn.
The agreement passed by the council Wednesday gives officers two 3 percent salary increases, to be paid retroactively to Dec. 19, 2011, and July 2, 2012. It also includes the possibility of future incremental increases, up to another 6 percent of salary. The agreement lasts only until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. Another contract would need to be negotiated after that, said Steve Teglia, assistant to the city manager.
"I think BPOA understood the reality of the situation in terms of what the city could reasonably offer and afford," Teglia said after the council meeting. "I think they understood that the city was willing to work with them, but we had to be reasonable and accountable to fiscal prudence. And ultimately we were able to put together a package that was a benefit to the city and also a benefit to the membership of the police association."
Det. Todd Dickson, the union's president, voiced cautious optimism in an emailed statement Wednesday night.
"The men and women of the Bakersfield Police Officers Association are relieved to be able to put the past six years behind them and have voted to ratify this new contract, not only for the economic value of it, but also in the hopes of continuing to improve upon a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation with city leaders," Dickson said.
But he also appeared skeptical.
"Are the economic increases in this contract agreement what our officers deserve? No, not even close. But the city leaders tell us this is the best that it can do at this time.
"What was crucial for the Association was that the city acknowledged in writing that it owes us 12 percent, and that it has agreed in writing, to a plan to pay us what is owed. We have been told that the city's 'intent' is to pay us what is owed as soon as 'fiscally possible.' Whether that takes one year or six years remains to be seen," Dickson said, referring to the potential future salary increases up to 6 percent. Those increases would be made on top of the two 3 percent increases in order to bring salary increases for police in line with those that other city staff have received.
According to a salary schedule from the city manager's office, with the two initial 3 percent increases an entry-level police officer would earn $25.69 an hour in base salary, not counting other benefits. At step five of a five-step pay scale, he would earn $31.29 an hour in base salary.
BPOA members voted on the contract on Valentine's Day, with a majority of the approximately 300 members voting in favor of it, Dickson said.
"It's been a long, long time," Councilman Harold Hanson said about the contract. "I'm really pleased about this. I know staff has worked very, very hard and the council members have worked diligently on this thing. These guys (the police officers) are really important to us."
Also Wednesday night, the council heard from Brandy Midkiff, a local advocate for people with disabilities, about the need to ensure bus stops are marked as no-parking zones. One year ago, City Council members passed an ordinance banning parking at bus stops marked as no-parking zones. Midkiff said only 56 percent of stops in Bakersfield are marked that way.
"If a bus cannot get to the curb, a person with a disability cannot get on and off safely," Midkiff said. "We just want equal access to make sure all of us are safe." Councilman Russell Johnson asked city staff to look into Midkiff's complaint.
Johnson also asked city staff to look into officially recognizing a Bill of Rights Day for the city of Bakersfield. Johnson's suggestion came one day after the City Council of Taft passed a resolution supporting the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Johnson alluded to gun control debates taking place in state and national government.
"With a lot of the issues going on in Washington and Sacramento right now, I think it's appropriate to not only honor the Second Amendment but honor all of the Bill of Rights," he said.