Local police, fire unions do right thing

Agreeing to forgo pay raises allows the city government to better weather the recession and reduce the need for layoffs.

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Although the Great Recession is over (at least according to the economic experts), times are still tight -- particularly for government.

That's because state and local governments count on tax collections, particularly sales tax, to pay employees and bills. It takes months for the taxes collected to make their way to the city, county and state treasuries. The decline in spending last year is therefore being felt now, and could be for the foreseeable future.

That's why the Walla Walla city police and firefighters should be commended for agreeing to concessions -- forgoing pay raises this year and next -- in their new contracts.

"It was obvious there were problems with the city's finances, and the city was asking for concessions," said Marlon Calton, Police Guild president. "We went and looked at the city books and we found that the city was in worse shape than what the city had presented themselves to be ... we know what the city is going through, we understand."

The recently approved police contract is essentially the same as the firefighters' two-year contract approved in December. Members of Local 404 International Association of Fire Fighters will also forgo raises.

The police officers and firefighters could have pushed for pay raises and other benefits, and they might well have gotten them. Police officers and firefighters can't go on strike, as they are considered essential to the safety of the public.

So, if there is not an agreement between city officials and the unions, the matter can go to binding arbitration, which means both sides must accept a ruling by a third party. That decision is generally based on the contracts of comparable police and fire departments.

Given that the Tri-Cities is booming -- at least compared to the rest of the state and nation -- it is certainly possible going to arbitration would have netted the officers and firefighters raises, as Kennewick, Pasco and Richland could be looked at as comparables.

The downside of receiving pay raises, however, is that the city could be forced to lay off more employees. In police work and firefighting, not having enough people on duty creates safety issues.

The decision by police and firefighters to accept a no-raise contract this time around improves their safety as well as public safety.

If the economic situation doesn't improve for local government in the next year or two, we would anticipate other unions representing city workers would do the same as police and fire.

But we are optimistic the predicted economic rebound will occur. Folks in the Walla Walla Valley should start to see the economy begin to grow, albeit very slowly.

The cutbacks in spending by city officials, as well as the sacrifices by police, firefighters and other city employees should put city government in a strong position to emerge from the Great Recession on solid financial ground.

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