The Miami Springs Police union bargaining unit and the City of Miami Springs have reached an impasse on a contract. Actually, the city declared an impasse but other options are available for both sides.
While the main issue is money, as always, calculations and financial factors are extremely complicated and convoluted to outsiders, but certain facts are undeniable:
• Miami Springs officers haven’t had a contract with the city for more than five years.
• Springs cops haven’t had a raise in over five years.
• Due to mandatory retirement contributions, nearly all officers take home less pay than they did five years ago. For one veteran officer, that means he contributes over $500 per two-week pay period when it used to be around $250. That sometimes amounts to more than federal taxes.
• Springs cops’ retirement contribution rate of 18.6 percent of gross pay is higher than any other police department in Florida and possibly higher than any in the country. It is true the city contributes an even greater percentage. The police used to contribute more than the city but market factors have changed that situation.
• Miami Springs Police has one less officer than before because when Lt. Steve Carlisle retired last December, his position was eliminated at the request of city management and no new entry-level officer was hired.
• Since Miami Springs adopted the red light camera system along Northwest 36th Street, the program added a net of approximately $1 million to the general fund in two years. None of the money is directly earmarked for the police department.
The union reps are Sgt. Jimmy Deal and Officer Jennifer Casanova. Deal said the City of Miami Springs doesn’t negotiate; rather, it essentially says no.
“Some of our proposals would actually save the city money,” said Deal. “We try to work with the city and we don’t outright reject offers like the city does. Changes need to be made but not by cutting our benefits. That doesn’t fix the problems.”
Deal said 25 percent of the current force (10 officers) is retiring in the next four years.
“If pension benefits are cut, the department will have a hard time hiring 10 new officers,” said Deal. “I mean quality officers. We don’t get take-home cars and our overtime doesn’t count in our pension like at other agencies. The pension is the only real benefit we have. People appreciate us and what we do, but there’s a cost for it.”
Deal said, currently, when he retires, he will get 100 percent of his pay, with an average of three years. But the city wants to lower the maximum to 80 percent with an average of five years of base pay and eliminate the 20-year retirement, replacing it with 25 years. He said that would force some veteran officers to retire.
“The city’s priorities are not straight. The city paid out over $875,000 for golf course expenses last year such as golf carts and lawn equipment,” said Deal. “But nothing was budgeted to benefit the police.”
City Manager Ron Gorland issued the following statement regarding the impasse:
“The police bargaining information posted on our website clearly states that the City's negotiating objective is to begin lowering the cost of the police pension plan to both the police and our residents. The cost of the police retirement plan is escalating out-of-sight to both the police and residents due to a combination of new life expectancy actuarial tables and investment losses. Unfortunately this cannot be achieved without a reduction in benefits. For instance, currently a policeman joining our force at age 21 can retire at age 49 with 100% of their average highest pay. The Actuary has provided a report that shows the contribution cost for both sides will increase to 29.2% of payroll beginning October 1, 2014. This represents an annual cost to the City of $713,037 or an average of approximately $16,582 for every officer in the City.
“The City's latest offer is a pension package that is similar to the benefits offered under the Florida Retirement System (FRS). The City Council has also offered to use the City's savings from this proposal over the next three years to further reduce Officer contributions. According to the Actuary, beginning October 1, 2014 the City's current proposal lowers the contribution rate for the Officers by approximately. 10% from the 29.20% under the current plan to 19.34% under the City's latest proposal.. The PBA's counter offers do not decrease the contribution rates as significantly as the City's proposal.
“To date the bargaining unit has not offered any alternatives in bargaining which would sufficiently lower contribution rates in the future.”