By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
City employees who agreed to accept furloughs were lauded by the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday for doing their part to help see the city through its fiscal crisis.
“This is big for our city,” said Mayor Susan Gorin. “I wanted to say thank you to our employees for stepping forward.”
The city’s largest employee union last week overwhelmingly agreed to accept furloughs that will reduce their pay by 4.6 percent. The agreement will shrink the general fund shortage by about $700,000 this year — 28 percent of the $2.5 million the city hopes to save through employee concessions.
“This isn’t everything, but it’s a big chunk of that gap,” Gorin said.
The employees always wanted to do something to help, but the negotiations took a long time because they hoped to find a way to spread the financial pain out over a longer period of time, said Tony Alvernaz, president of the Santa Rosa City Employees Association, which represents about 450 workers.
“This really shows that they’re committed to this city and to this problem and they’re willing to help,” Alvernaz said. “We can only hope that things are going to get better and we’re not in the same position a year from now.”
Alvernaz said he represents some of the lowest-paid workers in the city, who are going to feel the pain from taking the equivalent of one unpaid day off every month.
“Some members said ‘If I take this cut, I’m going to lose my house,’” Alvernaz said.
Councilman John Sawyer alluded to that pain when he noted there was a “misconception” about all city employees being “richly paid.” In fact, he said, depending on jobs and family status, some city employees are “in or below the poverty line.”
“It is very important that they step forward and we appreciate that,” Sawyer said.
Gary Wysocky also praised the employees, but cautioned his colleagues against thinking their job was done.
“This is a start. It doesn’t solve all of our problems,” he said.
Human Resources Director Fran Elm said the city continues to talk with other employee groups about reaching similar agreements.
“What this does is it sets a model in place for how other units can give a concession,” Elm said.
In addition to the SRCEA workers, 42 senior and mid-level managers and administrative employees unrepresented by a union had similar furlough requirements imposed on them.
All together, the savings for both groups would come to $1.6 million total or $870,000 for the general fund.