There are multiple considerations driving the apparent council support for MOUs that will provide four bargaining units with a 3 percent COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment), should the Davis City Council support a consent agenda item approval of the agreements.
One viewpoint notes that all four of the bargaining units, particularly PASEA (Program, Administrative and Support Employees Association) and DPOA (Davis Police Officers’ Association), played ball with the city in the last decade – taking less in terms of a pay increase in 2005, and accepting concessions in 2009 and 2012.
Notably absent from the agreements are the firefighters and DCEA (Davis City Employees Association), both of whom went to impasse in the last round of negotiations – and DCEA went to impasse against the city twice, once succeeding in overturning the last, best, and final offer.
Sources have told the Vanguard that neither group has met with the city about a new agreement and until the two groups come to the bargaining table, they will continue to operate under the imposed terms and conditions.
However, this is not necessarily the only or even the predominant view. In an email the Vanguard received, City Manager Dirk Brazil took a different approach noting that, since 2009, take home pay for the average city employee has dropped by 7 percent. At the same time, these employees have been asked to pay an increased share of their benefit costs (i.e. pay the employee share which the city had previously paid), among other cost increases.
According to the city manager’s view, “The 3% over two years agreed to between management and the employee groups that is before the City Council Tuesday night for consideration is an incremental move to improve overall compensation for our employees after a very difficult few years.”
But this approach comes at a cost – a very large cost for a city in a precarious fiscal condition. The Vanguard on Monday showed city projections for how even a modest $1.1 million increase to employee compensation will impact the budget down the line.
Just a $1.1 million increase will push the city into the red, according to current projections, until 2019-20. Obviously the city has fund-balance it can lean on, and could make other cuts as well.
The announcement comes just before the city council will make decisions on how to raise approximately $10 million a year for roads and other infrastructure that is currently using $4 million in general fund and road impact money.
Moreover, city projections show the city turning into the deep red in 2021 after the expiration of the current sales tax.
Reaction on the Vanguard yesterday was uniformly negative. As one poster put it yesterday evening, “Does anyone think this is a good idea? I read through the comments quickly, but I didn’t notice anyone support[ing] it. If people that usually disagree are in agreement on this, the CC should take notice.”
But there is another side to this story. The city has been facing a difficult time recruiting police officers that fit in with the city’s culture to come and join the city police force. Part of that consideration is the analysis that the Vanguard has repeatedly run since 2008 that Davis police are near the bottom in total compensation in the region and among similar cities.
On the other hand, the Davis firefighters, going back to 2004, received a whopping 36 percent pay increase. The Davis Police Officers, believing that they were doing the right thing, took a much more modest 18 percent increase during the same MOU cycle.
The result is that, while the police officers are near the bottom in compensation, the firefighters are near the top, even after the imposition of the most recent contract on them.
In 2013 and 2014, as the Davis firefighters fought every single reform, from boundary drop to the decrease in staffing to the shared management agreement to the collective bargaining agreement, it was the Davis Police Officers’ Association who showed up at the city council meeting to back the city and blunt the firefighters’ protest.
The Vanguard has long been concerned with the sizable gap in pay between police and fire – particularly in a town that has relatively few fires and where part of the solution to the late night downtown issues seems to call for more patrol officers.
Unfortunately, the numbers do not seem to add up at this time for increasing compensation for employee groups. The city is making a big mistake by increasing compensation on four bargaining units in hopes of making the police more competitive. The city simply does not have the budget reserves or flexibility to do this at this time.
And they do this at great risk. The city is counting on the voters to pass a still-unidentified revenue measure in order to maintain basic services like roads and bike paths. The city is further counting on the voters to approve innovation park measures that they hope will provide more diverse streams of revenue at a time when the city is struggling to figure out basic traffic flow on Richards Boulevard.
As the Vanguard’s analysis from the early fall shows, the city needs to hold employee compensation in line in order for these projects to pencil out. Increases to employee compensation means increased costs of city services, which means decreased net revenue on these parks.
Finally, by angering key constituencies that often do not see eye to eye on city issues, the city risks losing revenue measures that would pay for these increases.
The city is taking a great risk in believing they can increase compensation on some groups without increasing compensation for all groups.
In short, the Vanguard believes that this is a very bad idea that is likely to undo some of the key concessions and undermine the city’s fiscal standing that remains extremely perilous.
The city manager is focused on the wrong issue. The problem that the city has been attempting to fix since perhaps 2009 (and really, we have consistently argued that the heavy lifting did not begin until 2012) is that the city increased compensation beyond its capacity to sustain it from 1998 until 2012.
So if the city employees have had to take cuts in the last five years it is to compensate for the huge pay increases many enjoyed the previous decade and a half.
City revenue right now cannot justify that increase and we cannot support the idea that some groups can be rewarded for playing ball.
We certainly need to restructure the fire-police compensation picture, but this does not appear to be the way to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting