Adding to an already prickly relationship, the City of Santa Barbara upped the ante with the Police Officers Association on Tuesday by sending out a press release announcing that salary and benefit negotiations were at a standstill, and that police officers must do more to offset rising pension costs.
The city released a statement saying that the negotiations have stalled after several months at the table.
Last week, the city sent a letter to the police union "requesting them to accept the city’s offer to avoid an impasse in negotiations, and the union declined that offer,” the statement said.
The city has asked union members to contribute toward their escalating pension costs, the statement said, which the members have said they refuse to do unless the city provides a salary increase to fully offset their pension contribution and additional salary and benefit increases on top of that.
Police pensions are among the most generous offered to city employees, with officers allowed to retire at age 50 and receiving almost their complete annual salary every year for the rest of their lives.
The city maintains that pension costs are increasing and that the city will need to pay police retirement costs amounting to 50 cents for every dollar paid in salary by 2015 and an estimated 62 cents for every dollar paid in salary by 2020. Officials say they’re requesting that the police union pay 9 cents of this amount.
The city has had to use reserves to cover basic services for street maintenance, libraries and parks during the tighter budget times of recent years.
“With revenues now recovering, funds should be used to restore public services not rising pension costs,” City Administrator Jim Armstrong said in the statement.
Police union employees received 5.75 percent in salary and benefit increases over the last two years that other employees did not receive. The city has offered another 5 percent in salary increases over the next three years.
With these increases, “The city’s request for the police union to pay the employee’s share of their retirement costs is very reasonable and fair," employee relations managr Kristine Schmidt said. "This practice is consistent with the state’s goal for all public employees to pay more toward their pensions. All other city employee groups pay part of their retirement costs."
The 115 police officers and 20 sergeants who make up the POA received almost 6 percent in salary and benefit increases over the last two years “that other employees did not receive,” according to the statement.
The city offered another 5 percent in salary increases over the next three years, and says that even officers pay their share of retirement costs, they’ll still receive a 2.25 percent increase under the latest offer.
Along with their statement on Tuesday, the city released some interesting stats about wage and pay.
The average 2012 salary and overtime for an Santa Barbara police officer was $99,084 per year, with sergeants bringing in $130,476 annually. A top-step police officer can cost the city $180,830 per year in salary, benefits and taxes.
The average retirement pension for a police officer who retired between 2010 and 2012 is $93,965 per year with a police sergeant being $107,422.
The Police Safety Plan also makes up $57,133,053 of the city’s $226,284,296 in unfunded pension obligations.
POA President Eric Beecher told Noozhawk on Tuesday that the organization is “looking forward to continuing the process through mediation.”
Beecher also forwarded a letter crafted by POA attorney Charles Golowasser that was sent to Schmidt and attorney Bruce Barsook.
“The association members cannot understand why the city has not seen fit to acknowledge their wage and benefit concessions over the past few years in response to the claimed needs of the city, but instead has made a final offer that represents a loss of pay for most of them,” Golowasser wrote.
The city’s position is hard to accept, he continued, especially when the association has indicated its willingness to make further concessions.
“To its credit, the city has not claimed financial hardship or inability to pay during these negotiations. It is easy to see why,” Golowasser said, adding that the city’s revenue sources are meeting, if not exceeding, expectations.
The association is still willing to continue to “make structural changes that are currently popular with those more interested in political mileage than the needs of employees in the most dangerous profession,” Golowasser said.
But rather than work to make those changes, “the city has asked the association to take a pay cut. We don’t want to do that,” he said, adding that the city should do whatever it takes to break the impasse, including hiring a mediator.