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Police union agrees to forego raises; Council ponders budget

Thursday, July 23, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Members of the Austin Police Association overwhelmingly approved a change to their contract with the City of Austin yesterday, allowing the city to save more than $4.1 million in wages for FY 2010. APA President Wayne Vincent said he was very pleased with the vote. He said 83 percent of officers participating approved the deal that will eliminate raises for police this year but guarantee future raises.


In return for giving up a scheduled 2.75 percent pay raise for the coming year, the APA gets a previously optional fourth year of the contract with the city. Under that contract, officers will get a 3 percent raise and an extra 1 percent contribution to their pensions.  The city also said it would not cancel this fall’s Police Academy class—although that was not part of the contract negotiations.


Members of the Austin Travis County Employees Association have also agreed to give up raises this year in return for future benefits.


Agreements with both groups were an important part of City Manager Marc Ott’s plan to cut nearly $32 million from the city’s General Fund in order to bring in a balanced budget proposal. Ott and members of the budget office laid out that proposal for Council Members Wednesday.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell praised Ott, noting that he and the budget staff had presented a budget that does not cut public safety or spending for social services.


Leffingwell and several other Council Members did express concern about the impact Ott’s proposal for one to three-day furloughs might have on city employees. Leffingwell said eliminating that item would be “one of our primary objectives.” Management also proposed eliminating longevity pay for non civil service employees. 


The cost savings for General Fund departments for the furloughs was estimated to be $700,000 although Ott proposed that the furloughs be assessed against employees in enterprise fund departments as well.


“It’s a small gap–$700,000—and we’re going to be looking for ways to fill that,” Leffingwell said.


Council Members Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez also expressed concern about the proposed furloughs.


“I think we need to look at both the furloughs and the service incentive pay,” Riley said. “City employees have been asked to carry a significant part of the burden so I want to see what we can do to address that because we’re already putting them in a difficult position.” With the elimination of positions and no raises or market study to show the need for increased pay, Riley said he was worried that employees are being stretched too thin. “From the standpoint of morale alone,” he said, something could be gained by putting funds back into employees’ pockets to acknowledge the contributions city employees have made.


Council Member Randi Shade said she supported the furlough idea because Austinites in the private sector are being asked to take furloughs also.


On the brighter side, Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo told the Council he was recommending that the city contribute $1.2 million more to the employee retirement system. He said the city was seeing some savings in the areas of fuel and health insurance costs.


(For more on the budget, see Wednesday’s story.)

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