By STEVE JONES Staff writer
Mayor James F. Brown said today that he was "puzzled and disappointed" by the remarks of Police Benevolent Association President Stewart Rood made Tuesday regarding the administration’s request for union wage concessions in the face of possible jobs cuts.
The mayor and senior staff met with representatives of the city’s five unions Monday at noon.
"The vast majority of the union officials and representatives understand the state of the economy and what that means for us," Brown said. "They are aware that this isn’t just a local problem. They read the paper; they see 400 people losing their jobs one day and another 101 losing their jobs another. We have done our best to keep all of our unions well informed and have included them in our meetings on health insurance and other budget issues. No one, including me, wants wage freezes or layoffs but we all need to do what we can to stop this area’s economic bleeding."
Brown said he appreciated the remarks from union leaders who said they would take a look at the mayor’s proposal and try to work with the administration. The mayor said he was "puzzled and disappointed" by Rood’s remarks. Rood said yesterday that he was upset the mayor brought his plan to the Daily Sentinel before the unions
"First of all, let me say, that I have the utmost respect for the Rome police and that I do not believe that Rood’s remarks represent the majority of the department’s rank and file at all," Brown said. "I have always had an excellent working relationship with the police department, and I believe that this administration has always tried to keep an honest and open line of communication not just with the department leadership but with the PBA and all its members as well."
"For him to come out and say otherwise is simply a bunch of self-serving nonsense," Brown said. "I am proud of the relationship I have had with previous PBA leadership; however, this leader goes out of his way to file petty grievances, improper practice charges and make things difficult for the department’s leadership."
Overall, Brown said, the police department has been treated well over the past seven years, averaging a yearly raise of nearly 3.5 percent during that time period. The department’s budget this year is $6,2121,869.
"While I would like nothing more than to give all of our workers raises, this is something that we can just no longer afford," Brown said. "The police budget alone is roughly $9 million. That means that one third of all property taxes in the inside district go to maintaining our police department. On top of that, we have always had to apply between $500,000 and $1 million in state aid or budget reserves to stabilize taxes in the inside district. With the drastic cuts in state aid, we would have to raise taxes between 15 to 20 percent in the inside district just to keep them at their current level."
Brown said he does not want to raise taxes drastically, as he has promised a budget with a property tax increase of no more than 2 percent. To raise taxes more would cripple the businesses in Rome and the people of the city — "many of whom are going on their third or fourth straight year without a raise in the private sector."
"The patrolmen and women that I talk to understand this and I welcome their involvement in the process," Brown said. "I will continue to work with the department’s rank and file. For Officer Rood to make the comments he did are unfortunate and disingenuous."
There are 76 officers on the force, with 2 vacancies.