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Shores also proposes freeze on police pay

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of May 24, 2012)

Indian River Shores has presented public safety employees – whose compensation has jumped an estimated 42 percent since 2006 – with a new contract designed to freeze salaries for three years and rein in insurance, pension and paid time off costs.

As part of ongoing labor negotiations with the Coastal Police Benevolent Association, the Shores last week gave the union a marked-up copy of its current contract making significant changes to 10 of the document’s articles or sections.

Councilman Dick Haverland, who has pushed hard for the town to get a handle on its financial situation, said the proposed changes would go a long way to reverse practices that, by his estimation based on research and review of documents, have resulted in up to a 42 percent increases in salaries and benefits over the past six years.

Haverland said state and local government workers in Florida on average saw their annual compensation grow by less than half as much during the same time period.

“We have a great group of highly trained professionals whose comp has increased way above market –  through no fault of the safety group. It’s our responsibility to the taxpayers to correct the excesses,” he said.

“Our basic objective is to make sure that the total package – work conditions and total comp – is attractive enough to hire and retain the most highly trained officers in the area.

“It would appear that relative to other safety officers, our employees’ compensation increased well more than $25,000 per person.

“At the same time we have paid $18 per hour for temporary public safety guys without changing the rate for six years – more evidence that the rest of the market has been flat,” Haverland said.

In negotiations where the government body and the union are only tweaking the contract, it is typical to negotiate two or three articles or sections of a contract, so the fact that Indian River Shores wants to renegotiate 10 articles this year means it is seeking a major overhaul of the understanding between the town and its workers.

Highlights of the proposed changes include:

In the disability section of the contract, the words “work-related” were inserted before the words “injury or disease,” in an attempt to limit the town’s risk exposure for disability compensation. Aside from this change, the Florida Heart and Lung Bill provides added protection to the officers for tuberculosis, heart disease and hypertension.

In the section pertaining to wages, the town wants major changes to the step-raise plan, to base salary, certification pay and position pay.

Educational incentive pay for new hires has been deleted.

The amended contract ends the banking of sick and vacation time going forward and freezes the cash payout for already banked sick and vacation time to the employee’s rate of pay as of Oct. 1. Normally, the banked time would be paid out at the rate of pay at the time of separation from the town – potentially a vastly higher rate than when the time was earned.

With regard to holiday pay, the proposed contract provides for regular overtime, time and a half pay, for holidays worked instead of 12 hours of overtime on top of the regular pay for working any of 10 designated holidays as the contract now allows.

Personal leave time, which had been doled out in increments of 32 to 72 hours per year depending upon shift length, has been deleted. Compensatory time, except for time spent on off-duty training that is required to maintain certification, has also been deleted.

The section on health insurance offers several changes. Should an employee be able to get coverageunder his or her spouse’s policy and reject the town health plan, that employee will be eligible for a bonus. Secondly, it reduces over a three-year period the percentage that the town would pay for dependent coverage from 78 percent to 64 percent and then to 50 percent.

The section on retirement gradually reduces benefits and increases employee contributions.

Currently, employees receive 2.75 of their highest salary per year in the form of a pension. For example, an employee with 30 years of service retiring with a $100,000 salary would receive a monthly pension of $82,500 per year. The new multiplier would go down to 2.5 percent in the second year and finally to 2.25 percent in the third year for new money earned only. Officers get to keep any retirement benefit already earned at the higher rate. Employee contributions would increase from the current nine percent of salary to 11 percent and ultimately to 13 percent.

When meaningful changes have come up previously in negotiations with the public safety personnel, town leaders weighed the potential savings to be realized from this relatively small department with the hassle and expense of going through full-blown impasse proceedings.

In extreme cases when the parties will not hammer out a compromise, impasse can take many months and fees for attorneys to represent the town could hit six figures.

It has been the town’s posture that residents would rather give the money to their public safety officers than to line the pockets of an attorney. That lack of will to firmly go to the bargaining table has, in part at least, resulted in the situation that exists today.

The next bargaining session with the union has not yet been scheduled, but meetings at this stage are being held in the sunshine and are open to the public. The first session was closed to only the union representatives, town staff and members of the town council.