Jul 14, 2014 9:12 PM by Cecile Juliette
Public safety employees in Oroville are upset that their director, Chief Bill LaGrone, is seeking to possibly dissolve the Oroville Police and Fire Departments. LaGrone says the move could end up being a cost-effective way to save the city money. Says LaGrone, "As revenue has declined, expenditures of the city have continued to increase. Public safety is one of the most important things the city provides its citizens, It's also probably the most expensive. We have to look at where can we trim."
According to the Oroville City Council agenda, LaGrone plans to approach the council Tuesday night, asking members to vote to give him the directive to ask both the Butte County Sheriff's Office and CalFire if they would consider taking over public safety for the city of Oroville.
But the president of the Oroville Police Officers' Association, Jared Cooley, says this is "out of left-field." Cooley says "We were blind-sided by this. As far as we knew, the deficit from 2013 had been met, and we were doing fine fiscally. They gave the chief a pay raise, they've given other department heads a pay raise, they've reclassified other department heads with pay raises...now all of the sudden we can't afford a police department."
LaGrone says he was somewhat surprised by the outcry within his departments. He says, "By no stretch of the imagination is this a done deal. We're simply asking for permission to go ask a question. For someone to say, ‘why can't I discuss the topic,' it kind of makes you wonder....My best dream is that we are able to take everybody with us. If one person gets left behind, I hope that's me."
Oroville Firefighters' Association President Skip George agrees with Cooley, and says he read about the vote on the agenda, which was posted last Friday. LaGrone says he directed members of his staff to inform everyone in the department 24 hours earlier, on Thursday. He says he chose to tell his staff right before the agenda came out in order to avoid weeks of drama and speculation. He says, "To drop something like that into the mix 14 days ahead of time, we would have had nothing but turmoil. We wouldn't have been able to focus on our tasks...some people like to have drama. To give some people things like this-it wouldn't stop for 13 or 14 straight days."
George says reading about the vote instead of being told about it personally, days before the council's vote, is upsetting. He says, "It felt like someone sucker punched me in the stomach. It hurt. I've literally given blood, sweat, and tears to this city, and to be treated like that-it hurt."
Cooley and George maintain that, during recent contract negotiations, no one mentioned that the city was in trouble financially. They say their contracts stipulate that if the city can prove economic turmoil, police and fire employees could be directed to renegotiate their salaries and benefits, which they are willing to do. But LaGrone says, with well-publicized layoffs still lingering from 2013, there is no way they couldn't know that the city faced financial problems. Says LaGrone, "Right now, we are structurally-unbalanced. We are spending more money than we are bringing in. I don't think anybody could have missed that we were $2.1(M) upside down last year. To say that you are unaware of it...both departments suffered layoffs less than 12 months ago. You have to be aware of it."
If the city council votes to give LaGrone the directive to seek input from both the sheriff's office and CalFire, and if both departments agree to take over law enforcement and fire services for the city of Oroville, it could take up to two years for the deals to go through. There is no guarantee that the more than two-dozen employees, including police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers, would be offered new jobs within the two agencies.
Tuesday's City Council meeting starts at 6:00pm at 1735 Montgomery Street in Oroville. The meeting is open to the public.