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.
“I really think they understand the state of the economy and they have been willing to compromise,” Hampton said. “It’s a delicate balance between cost savings and compensating your employees.”
The city’s new contract gave officers lump sum payments instead of step increases for two years.
It also created a second pension plan for new officers, one that would be less costly to the city.
Marano said coming to an agreement with Miramar “wasn’t a sure thing,” but the city was willing to work with the union.
Hollywood Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez, who oversees the police department, agreed that his city is in a different position with the police union than Miramar, Hallandale Beach and Pembroke Pines.
For starters, those cities weren’t as bad off financially like Hollywood was when they began dealing with pension issues, he said.
Fernandez also acknowledges that negotiations in the past have been bumbled, but he is eager to “restore the trust.”
“We want to put a proposal on the table that I think is meaningful,” said Fernandez.
On Wednesday, Hollywood city officials met for the first time in five months.
At the meeting, the city offered officers an average 8.6 percent raise for this year and 10.24 percent raise in 2014 at a cost to the city of $3.8 million over two years.
The union called it an insult to the officers who had their salaries cut 12.5 percent two years ago.
“It was detrimental to morale,” said Marano. “There was no indication that we are going settle anything.”
At this point, Marano said, the union plans on proceeding with the impasse hearing on Thursday.
Some city leaders put the blame for the stalled negotiations on the shoulders of the police union.
The city, they said, is close to finalizing negotiations with the other unions that represent Hollywood employees, such as the firefighters union and the general employees union.
Negotiations, said Hollywood Vice Mayor Dick Blattner, have a lot to do with how each side approaches things.
Said Blattner: “I think the law enforcement approach is our way or no way.”