After more than three months, negotiators for the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association are set to meet again on Sept. 23, one week before the current five-year collective bargaining agreement expires.
Over several annual budget cycles, City Manager Sheryl Sculley has identified rising public safety costs as the City’s biggest fiscal challenge, with steep increases in health care benefits and pension obligations reaching untenable levels. Public safety costs now account for 66.5% of the general budget. Projections had that percentage rising to 100% by as soon as 2030.
City Council under former Mayor Julián Castro agreed to hold public safety costs at the 66.5% level in the 2015 budget, a commitment that City staff proposes achieving by making $8.5 million in uniform health care costs in the next fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and a City Council that includes several appointed members have continued to support staff on the highly contentious issue. Police and fire union leaders have reacted with angry rhetoric and warnings of dire consequences if the cuts are imposed.
A City-appointed task force issued a report earlier this year that supported staff predictions about the rising costs and recommended that uniform personnel begin paying monthly premiums, standard office and prescription co-pays, use in-network physicians and reduce emergency room visits to contain costs.
Police union negotiators have opposed the City’s proposed reductions and suggested alternative options, including creation of a $32-million annual trust paid out of City funds that would be used to cover uniform health care costs. City negotiators have rejected the union proposals, saying they would fail to yield the necessary cost reductions.
The two sides reached an impasse in mid-June and have not formally met since then, although health care benefits consultants for both sides have continued to meet periodically. At the time of the last meeting in June, the City’s chief negotiator, Houston attorney Jeff Londa, said the City was prepared to unilaterally place uniform personnel on the much leaner civilian health care benefits plan if agreement couldn’t be reached before the contract expires on Sept. 30.
The union’s chief negotiator, Georgetown attorney Ron DeLord, has said his side will not return to the negotiating table until that threat is lifted. Sculley issued a new proposal in July offering the union a reduced health care benefits package that was still substantially richer than the civilian plan. Last week she issued an open letter defending the City’s position that was published on the Rivard Report.
The Sept. 23 meeting comes as City Council prepares to adopt the 2015 budget after a series of public hearings, workshops and department presentations. Police Chief William McManus and Fire Chief Charles Hood presented their budgets and department overviews to City Council on Tuesday.
Both have received strong Council support for their leadership. McManus was singled out for praise as he presented his final budget after more than eight years in his current position. He recently announced his planned retirement on Dec. 31 when he will move to CPS Energy and a new position there as the senior executive overseeing security for the municipal utility.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the great contributions you’ve made to San Antonio over the years,” Mayor Taylor told McManus at the end of his presentation.
*Featured/top image: Ron Delord sits at the head of the conference table to the left of Jeff Londa, who is representing the City of San Antonio with Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn (far right) during contract negotiations on April 29, 2014. Photo by Robert Rivard.
See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.