When it came to negotiating new contracts with their police unions, several cities in Broward saw their neighbor, Hollywood, as a prime example of what not to do.
Don’t let negotiations drag on too long.
Don’t make it personal.
Don’t take the fight public.
As a result, Miramar, Hallandale Beach and Pembroke Pines were all recently able to sign new contracts with the Broward Police Benevolent Association, which they say will end up saving the cities money in the end.
“This is a contract that is sustainable and it’s fair to the employees,” said Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee C. Miller.
Seeing their pension costs rise, the cities acted quickly to make changes to avoid the major financial disaster that hit Hollywood in 2011. Learning it was facing a $38 million shortfall, Hollywood slashed salaries, cut benefits, and put a referendum in front of voters to slash pension benefits.
Since then, negotiations between Hollywood and the police union have been sour.
“There was a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,’’ acknowledges Jeff Marano, president of the Broward Police Benevolent Association.
The city came up with offers the union dismissed as “insulting.” The union, which has filed several lawsuits against the city, declared things were at an impasse and is awaiting a third-party to come in to arbitrate.
But the other cities said they kept communications open with the Broward PBA, and that helped them in the end.
“We provided data showing what was sustainable,” said Hallandale Beach’s Miller.
She said the new contract not only saves Hallandale Beach money on long-term pension costs, but also gives the city’s nearly 100 officers long overdue raises.
The new contract gives officers a 3 percent raise retroactive to Oct. 1, 2011 and they’ll get a 2.5 increase as of Oct. 1, 2013.
Sergeants received a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to Oct. 1, 2011 and will get another 2.5 increase Oct. 1, 2013.
But in exchange for the raises, the union agreed to several pension changes, including capping a pension at $95,000. Once police employees reach that $95,000 ceiling, they will only be eligible for eight cost of living increases.
New hires will have their pensions figured differently, and won’t be eligible for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which in effect, allows officers to “retire,” but continue to work and earn a salary on top of collecting pension benefits.
Miller said making pension changes now will help the city avoid financial problems down the road.
She estimated the city will save about $3 million a year in pension outlays.
Sensing problems down the road with its pension payouts, Pembroke Pines began taking drastic measures in 2009, including changing the number of years an employee has to work to be eligible for a pension, and cutting back on the cost of living increases.
But the current contract, which is in effect through 2015, reinstated overtime for officers working more than 40 hours in a week.
In Miramar, Natasha Hampton, the city’s human resources director, said officials realized five years ago that the rising pension costs were eating up the city’s budget.
She credited “mature leadership” within the union for understanding the situation the Miramar was in.