The Santa Barbara City Council reviewed a final fiscal contract proposal from the local police union in a closed meeting last night to determine if additional concessions are needed to help balance the city’s budget.
Due to disagreements over proposed decreases for officer retirement pensions, the Police Officers Association and city officials have struggled to renegotiate the union’s expired contract. Although the police association has conceded to some of the city’s demands, members of the union argue the city already has the money needed to balance this year’s budget without cutting employee salaries. And both city administration and the POA complain that there has been a lack of cooperation throughout the negotiating process.
“I wish the tone of the discussion had been different until now, it is unfortunate,” Santa Barbara City’s Employee Relations Manager Kristy Schmidt said. “Most of the groups have been able to keep a positive tone during discussions.”
Currently, the police union is proposing to reduce the portion of officers’ pay which goes to pensions by 3.5 percent, representing a six percent cut to the city’s total expenditures. If the council decided not to accept the union’s offer during last night’s closed session, they will hold another meeting on Thursday to consider new terms for a contract.
According to Schmidt, part of the new negotiations involves spreading the concessions over a longer period.
“We had asked them to make concessions equal to six percent this year to help balance the city’s budget and they have not given us a proposal to match these needs until now,” Schmidt said. “This new proposal is different, it is a three year proposal, and we are definitely going to give it the attention it deserves and provide it to the city council for review.”
Schmidt said other city employees have already agreed to similar cuts in their contracts.
“This is what all of the bargaining units have done,” Schmidt said. “The Police Officers Association is really the last group to help deal with the city budget.”
Prior to last night’s meeting, Sergeant Mike McGrew, president of the Police Officers Association, said their proposal mirrors a similar contract made with the city’s firefighter union, but he is skeptical it will be approved without further changes.
Despite the troubled negotiations, Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams said he believes both parties have come closer to a compromise for the council to approve.
“There may not be as much of an opposing factor,” Williams said. “The city and the union negotiated and I believe a more compromising solution was reached that will save the city more cost but will also not be as severe as the police had feared.”
As of press time last night, city officials had reached a tentative agreement with the police association, pending a final decision Thursday night.