Town Manager Dave Bullock and his union bargaining negotiation team spread their message of pension predictability to another group of unionized employees Tuesday, March 5.
Bullock and town labor attorney Reynolds Allen told Longboat Key Police Department Union representatives the town is willing to offer the police officers a new three-year contract that’s pretty much exactly what the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Union agreed to last month.
That contract froze the current firefighter pension plan and caps the town’s financial responsibilities moving forward, while giving firefighters the option to shift to the Florida Retirement System pension plan.
The town and firefighters will split required FRS contributions 50/50, with the town’s maximum contribution capped at 13%, according to the agreement. The contract also gave firefighters a 3% wage increase.
That same proposal, with the 13% cap, was offered to the police officers last week, with Bullock stressing the town is not willing to offer anything that doesn’t freeze the current plan and provide predictability moving forward.
“This town enjoys and has enjoyed for a long time a high level of public safety,” Bullock said. “The citizens expect it, and you guys do a great job at it. You are probably the most-liked police department around because of your level of service, and we don’t want that to change.”
But what must change immediately, Bullock said, is freezing the town’s most underfunded pension plan.
“The police pension plan is the least healthiest of the town’s pension plans and is one of the worst in Florida when it’s compared to percentage of payroll,” Bullock said.
Town staff produced statistics showing the town’s annual contributions to the police plan have increased 700% in nine years, rising from $103,000 in 2005 to $824,000 that’s budgeted for 2014.
As a percentage of payroll, the town’s contribution has grown from 11.70% to 82.27%, for an increase of 603% since 2005.
“The employees’ contribution rate has stayed the same at 10% all these years, while the taxpayers are the risk bearers making up the difference, and that’s the issue,” Bullock said. “The town is going into a different pension direction, and I want to be real clear on that. We want to provide a fair and reasonable pension plan, but it doesn’t include 80% of payroll.”
Police Benevolent Association attorney Diane Bailey Morton told town staff shifting police officer pensions to FRS and making their contributions unpredictable, if FRS contributions rise, will not make the Key’s police department competitive with nearby agencies.
“We don’t see a problem with what we are proposing and neither did the majority of the firefighters,” Allen said. “This town has one major road, a nice population and a low crime rate in a small-town atmosphere.”
Morton argued the town would have trouble attracting experienced officers, but Bullock disagreed.
“I guarantee you that will not happen and we don’t want the rookie officers out here,” Bullock said. “This town will not have anything other than the quality of experienced officers we already have.”
The police officers agreed to meet again in early April. The union will have time to review the town’s proposal, but it also had some points for the town to consider before the two sides meet again.
Police officer and union representative Chris Skinner noted a Longboat Key police officer’s base pay is $44,000, while the base pay for firefighter paramedics is $51,500.
“Fire makes more than we do,” said Skinner, noting the 3% pay raise for firefighters is more than what police officers would get with their proposed increase across the board. “The disparity has become larger and larger between two groups whose responsibilities aren’t that different in the grand scheme of things.”
And because Key police officers work 12-hour shifts and only earn eight hours for holiday pay, they are asking for 12 hours of holiday pay and time-and-a-half pay if an officer chooses to work on a holiday.
Police officers are also asking the town to consider locking down their percentage of insurance if their pension plans are modified to prevent further wage deductions for future health insurance increases.
Taxpayer Responsibility for Key Police Pension Plan
Fiscal Year Required contributions
*700% increase in nine years.