Special Master William McGinnis opened an Oct. 16 hearing in the Town Hall Commission Chambers with the intent of making contract recommendations because the town was at impasse with the Longboat Key Police Union regarding a retirement plan.
But McGinnis never had to make a recommendation.
That’s because town staff and the 11 members of the union reached an 11th-hour agreement on a new three-year contract in the meeting room while McGinnis waited in the chamber.
Two hours after McGinnis gave the parties his blessing to try and reach an agreement, the parties walked back into the chamber to tell McGinnis he wasn’t needed.
“We’ve struck a deal and we’ve worked it out,” said town labor attorney Reynolds Allen.
The deal is a pension alternative the town originally proposed in March, at the start of the stalled negotiation process.
It’s a 401(a) retirement plan offer that includes a 3% pay increase and gives officers another 7% increase in take-home pay.
That’s because police officers currently invest 10% of their pay into an underfunded pension plan the town wants to freeze.
An employee who elects to make a voluntary 3% contribution, which the town will match, will still have 7% more take-home money that the employee can utilize for other purposes, including additional voluntary contributions to the defined contribution plan.
As part of the proposal, the town will make a 10% contribution for employees even if they choose to put aside none of their salary to the plan. If an employee, though, invests a 3% contribution, the town will match that 3%, giving an employee a combined 16% total contribution to the plan.
The offer also comes with 2% cost-of-living allowance increases (or the same raises other employees receive if that amount is higher) in years two and three of the contract.
Earlier this year, firefighters agreed to split required FRS contributions 50/50, with the town’s maximum contribution capped at 13%, according to the new three-year contract. The contract also gave firefighters a 3% wage increase.
But, with FRS pension costs rising, police officers were afraid to take an FRS option that takes more money out of their paychecks once the town’s cap is reached. Officers would have to pay for costs above that cap.
“We chose this route because that’s what the town wanted and it alleviates our concerns about not having a cap on FRS contributions,” said police officer and union representative Robert Bourque.
What the contract doesn’t include, though, is a disability plan with which police officers are comfortable.
A disability plan offered that affords the same disability benefits as other town employees, police officers believe, is unacceptable and doesn’t include a high-risk option.
The current pension plan provides a disability plan that covers officers for the rest of their lives if they can’t perform their duties as a police officer after an injury. Officers are worried the alternative disability plan will force an officer to go back to work, even if it’s not as a police officer, to avoid continue paying disability benefits at a reduced rate than the officers’ current pension plan.
After some back-and-forth discussion, the town offered an amendment the union accepted that allows the union to reopen the contract July 1, 2014, and again July 1, 2015, for the disability issue.
And, if the union fails to ratify the contract within 30 days after the union receives the proposed contract, the union agrees that all disputed impasse issues will go directly to the Longboat Key Town Commission, and the parties agree to bypass the special-magistrate process.
Bullock told the Longboat Observer he intends to find a better disability option for officers, most likely before July.
Bullock said the town intends to freeze the police pension plan by the end of the year, or in early 2014, now that a contract has been reached.
Click here to view a PDF of the Police Department Union 401(a) offer.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org