Fort Worth City Council approves four-year police contract

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- The City Council approved a four-year contract Tuesday with 1,525 police officers that includes modest pay raises but allows the city to retain control of its underfunded pension plan.

Council members have said the contract will lock in the city's police costs for four years. Police Chief Jeff Halstead said Tuesday that the agreement will put the city in better recruiting position as it struggles to keep up with attrition and add more officers.

Mayor Betsy Price and six council members voted in favor of the contract without discussion. Council member Kelly Allen Gray, whose husband is a 20-year Fort Worth officer, recused herself. Councilman Jungus Jordan was absent.

"It's a done deal, and we survived it all, and we're still speaking," Price joked as she signed the contract with Sgt. Steve Hall, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.

City Manager Tom Higgins and Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis, who led the city's negotiating team, also joined in the signing ceremony at City Hall.

Police officers overwhelmingly approved the contract, with 83 percent voting in favor. The raises help protect officers against inflation, and the association still hopes to renew talks with the city over the pension.

The old contract didn't cover the pension, and the City Council approved major changes to benefits last fall.

The city is in contract talks with its firefighters, whose pact covers the pension. The new police agreement allows the association to reopen the contract's pension provisions if the firefighters get a better pension deal. In the meantime, the city and the police association are in state District Court on the case.

"We are still open to a dialogue on the subject and hope we can reach a solution," Hall said.

Council members said the police contract is fair and modest and won't significantly affect the general fund budget, which faces a $50 million shortfall going into 2014.

The contract, through 2016, increases the city's costs an estimated $34.5 million through the four years. This year's general fund budget is $583 million. The contract adds $706,000 to the current budget.

The contract includes pay raises of 1 percent for 2013-14, which kicks in Oct. 1; 2 percent for 2014-15; 1 percent at the beginning of the 2015-16 budget year; and 2 percent in the middle of that period.

"Step" raises for years of tenure stay the same under the new contract -- 5 percent for each of the first four years and 2.5 percent every other year after that until a cap at the 16th year.

The contract gives the city more freedom and budget room to hire officers from other agencies; implements education requirements for newly promoted lieutenants and captains; gives employees rights to view evidence collected against them in internal affairs investigations; gives guaranteed tuition reimbursement, matching a city policy for other employees; allows the hiring of more civilian crime scene personnel; and simplifies the pay differential for shifts.

Wanted: Select recruits

Fort Worth is in intense competition with other departments in Texas and Oklahoma for "a select group of new recruits," Halstead said in an interview.

The agreement sends an important message to recruits that the police and community have "bonded," Halstead said.

"The dedication to this profession is very, very strong," he said.

The lateral-hiring provision allows the city to recruit up to 30 candidates a year from other agencies in cities of 100,000 people or more.

Fort Worth can bring in those recruits at pay commensurate with experienced officers, up to a maximum level.

The old contract required the city to bring in those officers at entry pay for recruits. The new contract also allows Fort Worth to bring the experienced recruits into a shortened police academy and training period.

Halstead called the new provision "historic" for the city.

Even though the city faces a budget shortfall for 2014, council members don't expect big budget gaps after that, and they want to look at giving pay raises to firefighters and general employees who aren't covered by a contract.

The city's talks with the police association were governed by Texas' "meet and confer" statute, which doesn't require participation by either side. The city's talks with the firefighters are governed by collective bargaining, which requires negotiation.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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