Assistant City Manager Jim Holston, a member of the labor negotiating team for the city of Murrieta, answered these questions Patch posed regarding the recent contract agreements with Murrieta police employees.
Following is the email exchange between Patch and Holston:
Patch: How does paying the six percent raise into retirement funds versus giving it now save the city's money? Please explain.
Holston: The 6% raise was owed to the Police based on a contract that was approved in 2007. The raise needed to be budgeted in order to fulfill the City’s contractual obligation. What will save money is that Police agreed to pay the value of the raise towards their retirement costs. The City was previously paying these contributions so this will provide a significant savings to the City.
Patch: When did police officers last have raises?
Holston: July 1, 2009
Patch: Doesn't each employee by law have to receive raises?
Holston: No, any raises are negotiated.
Patch: What exempts the city from having to do this?
Holston: There is no law mandating that a City give raises to employees.
Patch: Is it the economic times and by permission of the employees?
Holston: Recent economic times have had a significant effect on the collective bargaining process. The Police had a contract in place that dated back to 2007 and voluntarily amended that contract to provide economic savings for the City. Other employee groups have also agreed to concessions to help the City through these tough economic times.
Patch: How many positions are currently frozen in police department?
Patch: The associations are the ones who approached the city about the contract extensions, according to the city staff report. Do you think this was because there could have potentially been layoffs?
Holston: The Association recognized that the City was experiencing some challenging economic times and voluntarily came forward to help out. We can’t speculate on ultimately why, the Association would be better able to answer that question.
Patch: Is the police chief involved in his own negotiation?
Holston: The Police Chief is part of the Management/Confidential group. This group is not represented by an Association.
Patch: How does them agreeing to pay a share of their medical insurance help?
Holston: The current contract called for the City to cover the entire cost of the lowest cost family plan no matter what the increase in cost. The City will now only have to cover 50% of that cost with the employee sharing in any increases.
Patch: Do they previously not pay any share?
Holston: The previous contract paid the entire cost of the lowest cost family plan. If the employee chose another insurance plan, they would have to pay the difference.
Patch: I believe most government agencies get 100 percent benefits, so please correct me if I am wrong.
Holston: We couldn’t comment on whether it would be most agencies. Many agencies pay the entire cost and many others the employees share in the cost. This is also a negotiated item and there is no standard.
Patch: Are the costs of medical insurance going up?
Holston: Yes, the costs of medical insurance will increase 9.6% effective January 1, 2013.
Patch: Where will the city see most of the savings, from the six percent toward retirement, or from the share of medical insurance cost?
Holston: The retirement contributions.
Patch: Can you comment on the city's reaction to both associations being willing to do this during these economic times?
Holston: We’re very appreciative of their willingness to help out in these tough economic times.