An estimated Torrance budget deficit of anywhere from $21-to-25 million, because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to result in unprecedented cuts to city services, including 32 fewer police officers and firefighters on the municipal payroll by instituting a hiring freeze and not filling vacant positions.
The City Council is scheduled to start reviewing proposed reductions at its 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, meeting, a week later than planned.
Officials postponed the discussion after deciding the optics of potentially cutting emergency responders was not the best while civil unrest was roiling Southern California, in the wake of a black man in Minnesota dying on Memorial Day when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. Mostly peaceful protests last weekend turned violent in some places, resulting in a countywide curfew for days and public safety personnel being on high alert during other demonstrations.
Torrance ended its curfew on Thursday, June 4.
But the unrest only delayed what City Manager LeRoy Jackson (who has had an uninterrupted half century career as a civil servant in Torrance) described in his budget message as a budget process “unlike any we have experienced before” after the once-vibrant economy collapsed in a matter of weeks because of the ongoing pandemic.
So, cuts should be made quickly, including not filling 79 vacant positions citywide, which will save about $11 million.
“The reduction to departments’ budgets in this magnitude,” Jackson wrote, “will adversely impact programs and services provided to our community.”
Programs that are not targeted for elimination include crossing guards, animal control, coyote management, the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation and the annual Armed Forces Day Parade. The Armed Forces Day Parade was canceled this year, because the pandemic prevented large gatherings.
Police and firefighters generally receive generous salaries and benefits.
Last summer, the union representing city firefighters reached a new three-year labor agreement with the city, which awarded its members a 9% increase in wages over three years. Police received similar increases.
The total cost to taxpayers for new labor contracts in the two departments come out to almost $11 million over the next 4 1/2 years, city officials said.
But the unions rejected a call to return to the bargaining table for formal discussions about renegotiating the contracts, which both parties agreed to when the city faced a different economic environment compared to the “grim” financial picture that exists today, officials said.
So, the city has proposed cutting $7.6 million from the two departments combined.
That will mean cutting a dozen positions in the Fire Department and deploying 43 firefighters per shift, a reduction of three.