Shortly after Orland Hills laid off three full-time officers and 20 part timers earlier in the year, four remaining officers are working as long as 16 hours per day, six days a week.
Village officials say the reduction in force was necessary to keep their budget balanced, after property tax reassessments led to less tax money coming in and subsequent budget shortfalls. The attorney representing the police officers’ union chapter say the diminished staff and lengthy shifts are meant as leverage for ongoing contract negotiations.
“They are trying to break the union, and are working these guys to death,” said Jerry Marzullo, attorney for the Orland Hills Police Chapter 603 of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police. “It’s unsafe, and some of these guys are getting tired.”
In April, the Orland Hills force was reduced to five full-time officers, not including Chief Tom Scully and Deputy Chief Michael Blaha, after the layoffs. Later in the year, another full-time officer was laid off. The new staffing led to 16-hour shifts, six days a week, to cover three daily shifts seven days a week.
The village and MAP 603 were in contract negotiations at the time the officers were laid off, and a contract still hasn’t been agreed upon after over 18 months of negotiations.
Marzullo has filed an unfair labor practice claim against the village on behalf of MAP 603. Orland Hills and MAP 603 will be going into arbitration and are waiting for an available date to begin.
“They want to take officers working full time and replace them with part timers,” Marzullo said. “It’s creating an unsafe environment, for the officers and citizens, because the union won’t give in to ridiculous contract demands that would dissolve the bargaining unit.”
Orland Hills Village Administrator John Daly said in fiscal year 2011 the village was short $200,000 of previously collected property taxes, after the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board ruled in favor of appeals on property tax assessments. The loss was on top of another $400,000 lost in PTAB appeals in fiscal year 2010, Daly said.
“What we didn’t do two years ago was make reductions, and didn’t do that last year to see if the economy would pick up enough to let us hold the line and keep staff we had,” Daly said. “We hit a brick wall because we are $600,000 less than we had anticipated because of PTAB adjustments. This has nothing to do with labor negotiations. It has to do with balancing the budget.”
Daly said in the past, the village could cut costs by eliminating positions through attrition. But there were no other village departments that could be reduced further, he said.
“In the last seven years, we have not hired back four positions in public works, not hired back five positions in administration, and three in the community center,” Daly said, at the Nov. 7 village board meeting. “All of those reductions in force were done to reduce expenses of operating government, while still providing services to the residents, and we have not reduced any service level at all in that seven year period.”
When asked at the meeting about the number of hours worked by the officers, and the consecutive shifts, Daly said they are still in line with the union’s past contract, under which they still operate.
“We are requiring fully with the labor agreement that exists with the police,” Daly said. “And in compliance with federal and Illinois labor laws.”
Police Contract Dispute
Marzullo has negotiated for MAP 603 in the past. But this time he said things were different.
“The parties had been working for a while, over a year, to get a new contract together,” he said. “All of sudden around April 25, which was five days before they end their fiscal year, the village staff tells us they need to lay people off. We’ve gone through two budgets while negotiating contracts and they never had to do that before.”
First the village wanted overtime reduced, according to Marzullo. The union agreed to have language in the contract changed to fit that need. Then they asked for the minimum number of officers on shift to be changed, Marzullo said.
“That was worked out too,” Marzullo said. “Then they wanted to change the layoff language. They wanted to change it so the could have part timers on while full timers were laid off. Right now they aren’t allowed to do that. Now there are full timers and no one else. They want that changed and that will never happen.”
Marzullo said that change in language could lead to the force being staffed entirely with part time officers, and would dissolve MAP 603.
Daly said the union was first told about the financial issues that could lead to police layoffs back in February.
“We have explained to them over the course of the past few years the kind of financial problems we face,” Daly said. “They were well aware of $400,000 shortfall because of PTAB adjustments two years ago, and the more recent one, and we still haven’t recovered. Then take into account the economic downturn.”
Daly cited the closings of Circuit City in 2009 and Mancari’s Chrysler in 2010 as adding even more to the village’s financial setbacks. During the Nov. 7 meeting, Daly said Sam’s Triple Crown is pulling in about $5,000 a month in taxes, though about half are rebated right back to the business as part of an incentive deal to open up in the village.
The Sports Authority in the former Circuit City space also was given an incentive to open up in Orland Hills. Daly said he could not provide specifics of what that business is bringing in as far as taxes.
Marzullo said they were not told about any financial issues until late April when the officers were laid off.
“When they talk to the public it’s ‘we’re doing great,’” Marzullo said. “When they talk to us it’s ‘the Titanic is sinking.’”
When asked if the police’s response times have changed at all, during the Nov. 7 village board meeting, Orland Hills Police Chief Tom Scully assured meeting attendees that the four officers, along with him and Deputy Chief Blaha, are able to answer all calls that come in acceptable time.
“We have three beats, if we keep officers in those beats you have more visibility and a quicker response time rather than running across town,” Scully said.
Response times are around 90 seconds for an emergency call and between three and four minutes for a non-emergency call, according to Scully. The village’s size at about a square mile-and-a-half allows the beats to be covered effectively by the four patrolmen, he said.
Orland Hills resident LaVerne Valdez heard about the 16 hour shifts and staffing numbers in the police department, and encouraged neighbors to attend the Nov. 7 meeting to ask about it.
Scully said crime is down in the village, but Valdez pointed out that a need exists, especially since a recent fire in a vacant house on her block was deemed an arson case.
“Is this the administration’s new definition of safety for our community?” Valdez asked, and also asked about the roles played by hourly-paid community service officers.
Nine community service officers are currently serving the village. They help direct traffic, wait for tow trucks after an accident and other duties not connected to crime, leaving the full-time officers open to pursue more important needs, Scully and Daly said during the meeting.
Resident Dan Valdez, LaVerne’s husband, said that the CSOs are comparable to certified medical assistants, which he works with in his field.
“They are less skilled, and have less responsibility,” Dan Valdez said. “Therefore you can’t expect as much from them as much as a full time officer.”
Daly said that with the changes in place, the 2012 fiscal year that started in May has cost $150,000 less than the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year.
Dan LaVerne pointed out that salary costs have gone down, but proposed overtime for 2013 has doubled.
“It seems like the village is preferring to use over time to subsidize what we need for full-time officers,” Dan LaVerne said. “In a sense to me personally, it seems rather punitive. What we’re saying is the safety will diminish as far as the fatigue increases.”
Daly assured that Scully is monitoring the men for fatigue, and that recently they were working closer to 12 hours and 30 minutes per shift.
After the meeting, Daly said the hope is to add more officers back on in 2014.
“That’s what we hope for, but I don’t have a crystal ball,” Daly said.
Mayor Kyle Hastings thanked the attendees for coming, after what he described earlier in the night as the highest attendance at a village board meeting in some time.
“We answer all the questions,” Hastings said. “You may not like the answers but we’re doing it for a purpose. It’s what’s best for the town.”
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