Cops press for arbitration in contract fight

Sean C. Morgan

After meeting Oct. 19 to discuss declining revenues, The Sweet Home Police Department Emergency Services Union and the city of Sweet Home are moving forward with binding arbitration on Nov. 15.

The two sides were scheduled to enter binding arbitration to settle a contract on Oct. 19 but the union agreed to postpone the arbitration until its members and an analyst could take a look at the city’s numbers.

Following the meeting, the city maintains that it cannot afford what the union has proposed, and the union maintains that, despite unanticipated decreases in property tax revenue, the city still has the resources to increase police officer and dispatcher wages.

The union and city are negotiating a three-year contract covering 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. The two sides have two disagreements on the contract, salary and compensatory time.

The union’s final offer was a 3-percent wage increase in 2010-11 and 5 percent in each of the next two years. The union also believes that officers should be compensated with an extra day of compensatory time per month because they are not being paid for more than eight hours of work each month under the Police Department’s 12-hour shift schedule.

The city’s final offer included no raises for 2010-11 and the addition of two new 3-percent steps in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Officers and dispatchers would advance to the next step on the anniversary of their hire date each year. The salary schedule currently has five steps with 5-percent intervals. The bottom steps would be removed each year a new step is added.

Because police officers are not permitted to strike under state law, their option is binding arbitration, which means an arbiter picks either final offer with no compromises between the two offers.

“We tried to come up with a deal,” said union President Randy Gill. “The management flatly rejected it. We went through the budget. We found a lot of what we felt were discrepancies within their budget. Management refused to budge.”

Gill said that city management, on Oct. 11, presented a “what if” proposal of 3 percent each year of the contract without the compensatory time sought by police, and the union rejected it. City Manager Craig Martin and Police Chief Bob Burford say they recall no such offer.

The bad news about the revenue shortfall hit on Oct. 13. (See accompanying article on page 1.)

At the Oct. 19 meeting, the union said it would accept the city’s offer but the union still wanted the compensatory time, Gill said. The city rejected it and talks broke down.

“Our position, still going forward, (is) the union doesn’t have anything to lose by going to arbitration,” Gill said. The union calculates the cost of its wage increases at $111,000 over the life of the contract, which assumes the city does not cover time off to cover when officers take a day off with the compensatory time.

Gill believes the city had enough and still has enough money to cover the cost of the increase, which would take police officers closer to its list of comparable cities.

The union is 11 percent behind the lowest-paid department in the list, Stayton, he said. He would like to see SHPD employees paid around the middle of comparable cities.

The city is calculating the total cost of the union’s proposal at $574,000 over three years, including overtime consideration for the compensatory time were each of those shifts covered, said Finance Director Pat Gray. The city calculates the cost of its proposal at $118,000 over three years.

The two sides started bargaining in April 2010, and the city included some $24,000 in wage and benefit considerations for police officers and $6,600 for dispatchers when preparing the 2010-11 budget, Gill said, but that was never offered to the union members as salary increases. The city offered 0 percent.

That money was the anticipated increase in insurance benefits, Gray said.

That ended up being $5,000 more than budgeted, leaving some $19,000 of the money untouched for police officers, Gill said. “If you budget for a pay raise, you should give your employees the pay raise you budget.”

The union believes that the city budgets too high, that it has gone on a spending spree since the start of bargaining and that it should not have paid off the general obligation bonds that built the Police Department building early.

“We believe things are not as bad,” Gill said, understanding that the city is short more than $280,000 based on tax compression losses. “The perfect storm they forecast right now is a cloudy day.”


The classic example of over-budgeting is overtime, Gill said. In 2008-09, the city spent $34,000 on overtime for police officers and $37,000 in 2009-11. The city budgeted $86,000 in 2010-11 and $82,000 in 2011-12.

“Why budget 130 percent above what you know you need and tell your employees there’s no money to give them,” Gill said.

The overtime budget is based on a percentage derived by a formula, said Police Chief Bob Burford. It is there to cover large investigations if needed, “when we don’t have someone say, ‘I just shot somebody.’”

“There are certain things in an emergency services budget where you budget for a worst-case scenario,” he said.

Budgeted funds that are not spent become part of the ending fund balance, which is carried over to the next budget year as part of the beginning fund balance.

The over-budgeted portion would pay for the union’s proposal in the 2011-12 fiscal year, Gill said. The city ends up with overly large ending fund balances as a result of this type of budgeting. When building a budget, the city assumes less than it will receive in revenue and more than it will spend.

It takes the worst year and assumes it’s going to continue to get worse, while not doing anything to address it, Gill said.

The Police Department budget includes two notably higher line items under materials and services this year, uniforms, at $21,000 up from $11,000, and rentals, up from $12,000 to $45,000.

The city applied for a federal grant to replace body armor, Burford said. That included new body armor for the department’s SWAT member, which costs $2,000. The department received a small grant, and most of the budgeted funds will not be spent, instead rolling into the department’s ending fund balance.

The body armor is replaced on an ongoing basis, Burford said. It has a shelf life of five years, but he budgeted that way this year to take advantage of federal funds to replace them.

The rentals line item reflects lease payments on four patrol cars, Burford said. This is the third year the city is leasing patrol cars. They are paid for in three years. When the city started, the fleet mileage per year had increased from 111,000 miles to 198,000, and only one car had less than 90,000 miles.

The lease approach allowed the city to purchase two vehicles two years ago, speeding up the department’s rotation rate for new cars, Burford said. They are paid for this year, and the payment will be about $22,000 next year.

Regarding its approach to the budget, the department budgeted for $5 per gallon for gasoline, for example, Burford said. Gas prices had just topped $4 per gallon, and officials didn’t know what would happen. They budgeted at $5 rather than budgeting $3 per gallon and seeing prices at $4.50 per gallon, leaving patrol cars unable to move.

“That would be mismanagement,” Burford said.

The city budgets to build ending fund balances for just such emergencies as the city faces this year, Gray said. “At times, we end up losing money by compression or things outside our control.”

“It is arguably a conservative approach that, quite frankly, I would challenge other organizations to do,” said City Manager Craig Martin, so they’re not spending every penny.

“We didn’t know this was going to happen for sure, but we knew there was always the potential,” Martin said of the property tax shortfall.

It’s happened before, in 2003-04, he said. That was a one-year anomaly and the city spent three years rebuilding the ending fund balance at the Police Department by transferring money from the General Fund.

“There isn’t that much further to go in the General Fund,” Martin said, and the General Fund pays for several services mandated by the state government.


The department was a good financial steward until 2010, Gill said. Then it went on a spending spree that continues through this year.

The union contends that this was because of the contract, Gill said. “It didn’t look good for the city going into arbitration with a lot of extra money on its hands.”

Among the spending, the department replaced its camera system for $18,000 this year from equipment reserve funds.

The system is substandard to the previous system and is not needed to meet new mandates, Gill said. The older one was superior to the new one and meets mandates.

Monitoring the video feed is more difficult, the audio isn’t compatible with the monitoring equipment and the quality has decreased, Gill said.

A refrigerator broke down in the evidence room, Gill said. The small refrigerator was replaced with a large $750 model when it could have been a small $200 model from Wal-Mart.

The department used a grant to purchase a use-of-force simulator, called MILO, Gill said. The shed at the department had to be improved to house the simulator, but the department hasn’t had any training since it was put in.

Gill listed a couple of other examples, such as a DNA drier and a proposal to purchase night vision equipment. The night vision equipment was not purchased.

Burford conceded that he could have chosen not to replace the camera system.

He made a decision to replace an 11-year-old camera system where cameras had started failing, Burford said. “It was time, as far as a prudent upgrade cycle, to replace that equipment before other cameras failed.”

The simulator building is serving multiple purposes, Burford said. It now contains the bicycles seized by police. It cost approximately $10,000.

“We have had training,” Burford said. “The system was finally up and fully running at the end of the last calendar year, maybe this time last year; but with schedules and our MILO instructor gone to training back east a couple of times, we have not had a much training opportunity as we should.”

At the same time, the grant application indicated it would be available for other departments in the area to use, Burford said, and Lebanon Police Department has used it.

“Use of force by officers is by far the highest liability that the city faces,” Burford said. “Our defensive tactics training, firearms training and how much force to use is part of the MILO training. The intent of having this here and available with our instructors is valid and prudent.’

“I see my job as a manager is to try to look beyond the here and now and look at the needs of the department in the future,” Burford said.

The refrigerator was necessary, Burford said. “(The previous unit) was a small dorm room refrigerator for long-term storage of evidence that requires refrigeration. That refrigerator was completely full when it failed two weeks ago.

“I replaced it with a full-sized refrigerator, because looking into the future, DNA evidence is part of doing business in law enforcement. Any time, we have a rape or homicide with DNA evidence, we’re required to keep that evidence essentially forever, so replacing it with a college dorm model that was already full wasn’t an option.”

The DNA dryer is necessary too, Burford said. “You don’t get a second chance to process evidence correctly.”

The night vision gear the department has no longer works correctly, Burford said. He discussed it with staff, and they said it wasn’t worth replacing.

Bond Payment

The city spent $547,000 at the end of fiscal year 2010-11 to pay off the bond used to build the Police Department building 10 years ago. The bond still had another 10 years, and the tax to pay it off is outside of property tax limitations.

“That is a huge contention of financial irresponsibility on the part of the city,” Gill said.

The voters passed the bond, agreeing that the city deserved a new building.

Gill argues that voters passed a levy last year, saying they know employees need to be paid; and the city breaks its word to taxpayers by decreasing services.

He is certain the people would rather contribute to officers’ pay rather than paying off the bond to maintain service levels, he said.

“I like the idea of it (paying off the bond) as long as the economy dictates we can do this without effect to our day-to-day services – if we can do it without making cuts,” Gill said

Paying off the bond early is like making a double house payment at the expense of the family, at the expense of the kids who aren’t going to be able to eat, he said. He looks through the budget with a purpose of representing his fellow employees. “I’m not just going to let it go based on political maneuvering.”

The city can put away money into a fund that will pay for a new City Hall in the future, he said, but it’s saying it doesn’t have the ability to pay police officers today.

Burford said the bond was paid off because voters were told that it would be.

“When we went out for that bond, we said we’d try to pay it off early if at all possible,” Burford said. “When we went out for the current levy, we said we’d pay off the bond because it was the only way to reduce taxes in the city.”

Taxes are down on many properties this year, and being outside of property tax compression is one of the variables that helped do that, Burford said.

The city could have used that money to pay for the union’s proposal, Burford said. “But it would have been one-time money. The money’s there. The money’s gone.”

The following year, when the department must pay cost-of-living adjustments, it wouldn’t be able to because it spent the money, Burford said.


“What is the most important thing at the Police Department?” Gill asked. “It’s not camera systems. It’s not MILO. It’s about the person, the individual. It’s about the cop who goes out and does the job.”

Everything else is just icing on the cake, Gill said. “We don’t have the budgets to be doing these extra things. We provide the best police service anywhere in the state, but we don’t need the CSI stuff.”

Gill and his coworkers want to be paid a wage near the middle of comparable cities, he said. “We’re not asked to be at the middle of our comparable cities. That’s why I’d like the city to fight for us rather than fight against us in arbitration. Everybody knows we’re the lowest paid. The city needs to find funding anywhere in its budget.”

Even the cost of the city’s lawyers could have been spent to help get officers closer to comparable cities, he said. He believes legal fees might cover the union’s proposed 2011 pay raises.

The city has spent some $32,000 in legal fees in the past year, Gray said. That includes some time with bargaining with general employees and some minor legal matters.

Gill said morale is low, and he knows of at least six employees who are actively seeking another job in a department of 22 1/2 positions – 10 patrol officers, two sergeants, a chief, two detectives, a community services officer, 4.5 full-time equivalent dispatchers, one records keeper and a communications supervisor.

“What’s the priority of the city? To get all these fun gadgets or keep us on the job?” he asked.

Turnover will drive high training costs for new officers, costing the city anyway in the long run, Gill said.

“The citizens are ultimately going to pay for it,” he said. “And it’s all due to mismanagement in the city.”

Burford said the department has no ending fund balance now and that has been a concern, with property tax compression.

“What I look at when I do the budget is what do I think the department’s going to need next year,” Burford said. Paper, pens, toner – everything is put in as a figure, and “if we come in under it, great.”

Budgeting for personnel, which is most of the budget, $1.6 million out of $1.9 million, “it’s quite simple,” Burford said. “Here’s what the contract says you’re going to pay the next year.”

The contract states who’s due for a step increase, and the figures are included, he said. Those budget figures are close to what actually is spent. Personnel line items can have some carryover in the ending fund balance when someone leaves and a position is open for a couple of months.

“My goal would be for these guys to be paid somewhat in the middle of their peers and other departments,” Burford said. “I have tried to get them there and have been successful in better years. When the economy took a dive in 2009, things changed. This wasn’t the contract to try to give them another big catchup.”

The police officers have had a total of 57 percentage points in increases in the past 15 years, Martin said. That’s more than any other group of employees in the city. The dispatchers have had 54 percentage points in increases, while general employees have had 40 points and management has had 36 points since 1996.

“The city has made efforts to recognize their efforts,” Martin said. “We want to retain quality employees in all areas, including police. It’s not that we’ve been sitting there squirreling money way to not pay them.

“Part of our budgeting is to be conservative so that we do maintain adequate fund balances in all areas so when inevitably an economic storm hits, like now, we’re able to keep essential public services available.”