2017-08-11 / Front Page

Officers forgo pay hikes for four years

City agrees to increase medical benefits in exchange
By Melissa Simon

The Simi Valley Police Officers Association has agreed to forgo salary increases for the next four years as part of a tentative labor contract with the City of Simi Valley.

Of the Simi Valley Police Department’s 125 sworn officers, 112 personnel ranked sergeant and below are represented by the local police union. Local commanders and deputy chiefs are part of the separate Simi Valley Police Managers Association.

On Monday the City Council commended both city staff and the SVPOA on the terms of the proposed contract, which will be considered for final approval Aug. 21. The police union’s most recent contract expired June 30 and, should the council approve the agreement at its next meeting, it will be applied retroactively to July 1.

“I want to commend the POA for stepping up and understanding that we’re in tough times right now . . . with money being taken from us that we would normally have,” Mayor Bob Huber said at the Aug. 7 City Council meeting, referring to the growing pension crisis the city faces in coming years.

Simi Valley’s annual payments into the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, the state employees’ pension fund, is expected to double from $11 million in 2017-18 to about $22 million in 2022-23.

“(The POA) recognized the problems from the get-go in this negotiation and . . . they’re making their commitment to our city being strong in the end, and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Huber said.

Councilmember Mike Judge said he appreciated the police union’s taking on a “leadership role” in the city.

“It helps us out a lot and that’s what people in town need to see going on in the future,” the councilman said. “This organization stepped up, saw that what was happening was not the city’s fault and said, ‘We’re going to help fix it.’”

In exchange for salary freezes, the city has agreed to increase the officers’ medical benefits, contribute $20 to each employee’s 401(k) plan every two weeks beginning July 1, 2019, and provide greater flexibility with annual leave, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

As part of the boosted medical benefits, the city will pay all insurance premium increases up to 5 percent in 2018, 7 percent in 2019, and a combined 16 percent for 2020 and 2021, he said. Anything over that will be covered by an 80-20 split between the city and the officer.

“Medical insurance doesn’t affect pension liabilities because it’s not pensionable, whereas a pay increase would be pensionable and increase the unfunded liabilities we’re facing,” Levitt told the Simi Valley Acorn Tuesday. “I have a lot of respect for the POA because they recognized the issues facing the city and were willing to work on a contract to help the city from a financial standpoint.”

As of this week, contracts with the Simi Valley Police Managers Association and all other city employees were still being negotiated.

‘Creative ways’

Officer Tim Wedemeyer, president of the SVPOA, said that when negotiations began in April, the goal was to be as transparent as possible with union members to reduce the “shock factor” when the final proposal was presented to them.

“We had to find creative ways to find other benefits for the members that wouldn’t add to longterm costs for the city or add to the pension issues,” Wedemeyer told the Acorn.

“You have to understand the city has concerns and not go in there all puffed up to see who can put on the biggest arm-wrestling show,” he said. “We both saw the concerns and decided to work together to try to figure out ways to fix it, rather than having an adversarial relationship.”

When SVPOA members finally weighed in on the proposal July 27, they gave “overwhelming support,” he said.

“I knew the contract would be difficult for people, but I also knew that they would understand it because we were transparent with them through the whole process,” Wedemeyer said.

“Let’s be honest, the overall pension concerns are out of the city’s hands, and finding ways to deal with it is the responsibility of the city and the POA. We all have to realize that and work together to make it better.”

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