From left: SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and attorney Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator, look on during a contract proposal presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.
From left: SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and attorney Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator, look on during a contract proposal presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.

Mayor Ivy Taylor’s goal of a new collective bargaining agreement between the City of San Antonio and the police union by July 31 even as the firefighters union remains on the sidelines seems increasingly unlikely.

With tempers flaring and voices raised — a frequent occurrence over 18 months of prolonged, often interrupted collective bargaining talks — the City of San Antonio countered the police union’s latest offer on Wednesday with a contract proposal that holds the City’s added costs at $43 million. Concessions were made on what uniformed employees would pay for health care, but were balanced by an overall reduced wage offer.

Both sides continue to argue over financial projections for the cost of their respective wage and health proposals, and the City’s negotiations pointed out errors in the union’s side’s math. Other disagreements center on contractual language usage and clauses, education reimbursements, and other details that stand in the way of a new agreement.

Assuming the July 31 deadline arrives with a a deal, City budget officers will move forward with a fiscal year 2016 General Fund Budget, which starts Oct. 1, that will not include a pay raise or bonus for the city’s 4,000 uniformed police and firefighters. That budget has the support of Mayor Taylor and City Council. City Manager Sheryl Sculley will present the proposed budget to City Council on Aug. 6.

Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, a member of the City’s negotiating team, said he was still optimistic and eager to see the union’s counter proposal.

“We will come to an agreement … they are our employees, they’re not just (SAPOA) members. So at some point we have to have a deal,” Walsh said.

The City's negotiating team from left: Attorneys Jeff Londa, Bettye Lynn, Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, attorney Michael Barnard and First City Attorney Martha Sepeda. Photo by Robert Rivard.
The City’s negotiating team during a Sept. 23, 2014 meeting. From left: Attorneys Jeff Londa and Bettye Lynn, Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, attorney Michael Bernard and First City Attorney Martha Sepeda. File photo by Robert Rivard.

City officials are committed to achieving a new contract that holds public safety spending to 66% of the general fund budget, the largest percentage of any Texas city. The police union continues to press for a higher percentage of spending, more than70%, according to the City’s experts. With a 10-year evergreen clause in place that protects all current wages and benefits, union officials feel empowered to prolong negotiations. The City has filed a lawsuit in an effort to get the lengthy clause declared unconstitutional.

SAPOA President Mike Helle said he expects negotiations extend beyond the July 31 deadline.

“(Mayor Taylor) is the one that put the deadline down,” Helle said. “We’re going to negotiate for as long as it takes. … We’ve got way too many details to get down.”

The heated arguments between the negotiating teams center on the contradictory financial projections.

Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator, said the union’s latest, five-year contract would cost $44 million more than the City’s proposal and require $22 million in cuts to other programs to keep the budget balanced.

Houston attorney Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator. Photo by Scott Ball.
Houston attorney Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator. File photo by Scott Ball.

The police union proposal would equal 71% by the FY 2019 budget, said Maria Villagomez, the City’s budget director, who went through the police union’s July 10 proposal twice on Wednesday to explain how she and the City’s certified actuarial consultant found several inaccuracies in how the union’s total costs were calculated.

“We don’t control the City’s projections,” said Ron DeLord, the union’s lead negotiator, adding that really all they should be accountable for is a little more than 30% of public safety spending – the rest is the fire fighter union contract, vehicles, equipment, etc. “I don’t control any of those things. You made the number up, you can put in what you want. We don’t bargain over it.”

DeLord said the difference and deficit represent a tiny fraction of the four-year, nearly $5 billion budget.

“Your own projections here have us less than 1% to 1.2% apart each year,” he said. The deficit is “all politics … you’ve got massive reserves.”

Londa shook his head. Villagomez reiterated that the $44 million difference or what DeLord termed a 1% difference would significantly tip the budget into a deficit.

SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and SAPOA President Mike Helle listen to the City's contract proposal. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and SAPOA President Mike Helle listen to the City’s contract proposal. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Later, SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer called up the percentage of public safety against the General Fund. Each year, according to the City’s March 20 plan, it starts at 67.1% for FY ’15 (to accommodate for a lump sum bonus) and is then increasingly smaller every year until its 65.1% in FY ’18.

“Now you have a lowering ceiling on my head,” Fischer said. “Now you’re driving down the available dollars that you’ve asked me to work with.”

“We’re going to spend more going forward,” Walsh said.

The Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force report presented to City Council in March 2014 demonstrated that public safety costs needed to be reined in to avoid a coming financial crisis.

“The dollar amounts are not going down, they’re going up,” Walsh said. “It’s the percentage of the General Fund (that is going down).”

Neither side seemed satisfied by the end of the exchange.

“With all due respect, we have very competent people on our side of the table, too,” Fischer said earlier.

The discussion then devolved into a debate about the legitimacy of certified actuaries. Londa defended the professional standards upheld by the City’s certified consultant, Robert Jordan. DeLord claimed that consultants are not objective and deliver projections favorable to the City as their paid client. That charge has not been supported with any actual financial data. The police union has not retained a certified actuary.

*Featured/top image: From left: SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and attorney Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator, look on during a contract proposal presentation last week. Photo by Scott Ball.

RELATED STORIES:

Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.

City ‘Disappointed’ With Police Union’s Latest Offer

Mayor Taylor Calls Police Union Back to the Table

Commentary: Union Challenge Awaits Next Mayor and Council

Police Union Counters City Proposal

City Drops Premium Demand on Police Union Members

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org