After years of the city being at odds with its police union, the Hollywood City Commission took its first steps toward reaching a contract agreement with the police department on Wednesday, with the unanimous approval of pension changes for officers.
That paves the way for the commission to consider a new $5.6 million contract at its July 17 meeting. The approval brings the city and the police union closer to repairing the strained relationship that has led to several impasse hearings, lawsuits and an increase of officers leaving.
“This package definitely has merit,” said Police Union President Jeff Marano. “We are not whole, but this will hopefully keep more people from leaving.”
The city and the union’s dealings have been contentious since the city declared financial urgency in 2010 and 2011, and slashed pay and benefits for city employees. A question put to voters on the 2011 ballot resulted in the city slashing pension benefits.
Creative solutions and a new approach to spending has helped build the city’s reserves and made it possible to increase salaries and benefits, city leaders have said.
“I want to be able to put this past us, and hopefully the police department will feel comfortable being a part of the city,” said Commissioner Kevin Biederman.
But getting contracts in place has been a struggle.
Last October, the police union declared an impasse in negotiations, but recently agreed to meet with the city again.
Marano said the new contract makes a statement to the city’s police force.
“[City leaders] are putting their money where their mouth is,” Marano said. The union membership would have to ratify the contract, he added.
The two-year police contract, which is retroactive, covers the period from Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2014. It will give officers a new planned retirement plan.
However, raises that range from 11.7 percent to 13.7 percent are only retroactive back to May 2013.
The new post-retirement program allows union members to receive a lump sum payment followed by reduced lifetime pension checks. The contract also bumps the starting salary for police officers from $42,326 to $50,500.
“This allows us the opportunity to move on,” said Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez, who oversees the city’s public safety.
Chief Vincent Affanato said a contract would also help “stabilize” the department.
“It’s less of a distraction for them if they don’t have to worry about financial obligations while they are at work,” he said.
The commission on Wednesday also approved a $4.6 million contract with the firefighters’ union that bumps the starting pay from $32,884 to $46,305, bringing the city more in line with other agencies; increases salaries, depending on rank and years of service, anywhere from 11.5 percent to 24.5 percent; and implements a similar post-retirement plan as police.
The firefighters faced similar cuts as police, but had been working on a contract with the city for more than a year.
Capt. Bill Huddleston, president of the Hollywood Professional Firefighters Union, told commissioners that while the new contract is a step forward, it does not restore all that was lost when financial urgency was declared. Firefighters lost 12.5 percent in salary, their merit increases and overtime pay.
“We conceded a great deal to put the city back on track,” said Huddleston, adding that now firefighters have a sense of relief.
“We know now that there is a future to working in Hollywood,” he said.
Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez said Wednesday getting a contract finalized was “monumental.”
“They deserve every penny they got,” he said.