By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- Tulsa police officers vote today on their contract with the city. Even though the union agreed to the deal, many tell us they feel as if they're choosing between the lesser of two evils.
If they vote yes, they accept eight furlough days, which is about a three percent pay cut. If they vote no, the city will lay off up to 50 officers.
They say either way the vote goes, citizens will pay the price, because fewer officers will be on the streets, at a time when crimes, like homicide are up 67% over last year.
The contract vote is a simple yes or no ballot. Many officers say they feel the city has backed them into a corner. They say the police union offered to cut expenses by more than the mayor wanted, but the city refused and rather than negotiate something they could both sides could live with, they say the city issued an ultimatum: days off without pay or lay-offs.
Tulsa Police Sergeant Shane Tuell was on the union's negotiating team.
"All the officers are so perplexed why it seems so difficult to work with the city this year," said Sgt. Shane Tuell of the Tulsa Police Department.
Sergeant Tuell says the city needed to cut $1.7 million from the police budget, so the union offered to have all officers forgo overtime and holiday pay for one year and take comp time instead. He says that would save the city $3.3 million, but the city refused.
"I personally find it suspect the city would not be willing to work with us on our comp time, they were more willing to lay off officers," Sgt. Tuell said.
If officers reject the contract with the furlough days, the city is prepared to lay off the10 officers who just graduated from the academy and the officers who graduated from the two academies before that.
Officers say the one thing they didn't want - fewer officers on the streets - will happen, regardless of which way they vote.
"Right now, when citizens have to wait for hours for an officer to take a burglary call, the officer gets an earful and rightly so, that's understandable, but, that will more than likely increase and that's what we wanted to avoid at all costs," Sgt. Tuell said.
Police say the city wouldn't be in this budget crunch, if it wasn't for some irresponsible spending. For example, they say the city is switching its e-mail system, which could cost up to $2 million.
Mayor Kathy Taylor said in a statement to KOTV that the city faces serious financial challenges, and she hopes the officers approve the contract which avoids permanent reductions in force. As to the comp time offer, she says it would've been irresponsible because it deferred the cost to the future.
As for the email system, Mayor Taylor says money for technology can't be used for salaries and technology makes the city more efficient which saves money in the long run.
Mayor Kathy Taylor's full statement to The News On 6's Lori Fullbright:
The union negotiating teams were innovative in helping us reach the solution necessary to meet this year's serious financial challenges. We are glad we were able to reach agreement with each of the union's negotiating teams to avoid further permanent reductions in force. The budget is now complete and this month's sales tax reports clearly show we were correct in assuming additional financial downturn. I am hopeful the union membership will approve these agreements which support the adopted budget.
Many solutions were discussed during the negotiation including one which would have simply deferred the cost and left it for the City to solve in the future. All agreed this was irresponsible and was not pursued.
Technology investments come from capital funds and cannot be used for salary costs. In addition, technology investment is reviewed in terms of efficiencies for the City saving costs in the future.