VERO BEACH — The City of Vero Beach has told the union representing police officers that it has until Sept. 18 to accept a proposal that would cut their holiday and overtime pay, and increase police contributions to their pensions. If they don’t agree to the cuts, City Manager Jim O’Connor said he will proceed with a plan to demote nine senior officers – slashing their pay by as much as $16,000 a year – for a savings to taxpayers of about $200,000.
The alternative proposal would see police contribute three percent more to their pensions as well as accept a plan that would strip them of two paid holidays, and eliminate overtime holiday pay for everyone expect officers who actually work.
As it now stands, police have 11 paid holidays and get paid time and a half on holidays whether they work or not.
If the contract isn’t settled soon, the city proposes implementing the demotions on Oct. 1, the start of its new fiscal year.
The city cannot unilaterally implement the holiday pay and pension plan without approval by the union members. With the exception of promotions, officers haven’t had pay raises since 2009.
Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association staff representative Al Boettjer said the contact talks – which have been underway since May 2011 – are getting old.
“We’ve been fighting for a year and a half,” Boettjer said.
Cpl. Darrell Rivers, who sits on the union negotiating team, told members of city’s bargaining unit last week that officers are growing frustrated with him and others on the bargaining team.
“They hate us right now,” Rivers said. “We’re the enemy here.”
Boettjer, Rivers and Sgt. Phil Huddy initially agreed to the rank reductions over the summer, a move that would involve demoting three lieutenants, three sergeants and three corporals.
Now, city negotiators are proposing to achieve similar savings by reducing overtime and holiday pay as well as restructure the pension contributions.
O’Connor said the city spends about $800,000 a year on pension contributions.
O’Connor said he is willing to take the rank reductions off the table but only if the union and city can get this contract finalized so that City Council can vote on it Sept. 18.
The city is getting outside help in the negotiations from private lawyer Jason Odem, who is being paid $225-an-hour.
Odem’s addition to the city negotiating team appears to be working in favor of the City Council’s desire to reduce the budget and blunt the union’s negotiating ability.
“Basically every proposal that we put out there is, ‘No. That’s not what the council wants.'” said Huddy.
When asked if Odem was brought in because former Human Resources Director Robert Anderson, the former lead negotiator for the city, may have been too sympathetic to the police, O’Connor said that was a question police should answer.
Their answer was simple: Yes.
Anderson resigned from the city government in May.