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Longboat commission refuses police desire to join State pension

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The Town of Longboat Key Police employees were refused in a 7-0 vote by the Town Commission their request to be allowed to enter the Florida Retirement System pension (FRS).

The request came as the union representing the Police Department employees sought wage increases as well as admission to the pension and pleaded for what they refer to as “parity” with the Town’s Firefighters.

“Participation in the FRS is our number one priority. We believe both the police and fire are on the same pedestal and should be treated equally. No other agency treats Fire and Police so differently,” said Police Union lawyer Caroleen Brej.

After four hours of debate and discussion, the commission backed the contract offer proposed by the Town Manager that includes step raises of 4 percent for officers and 3.5 percent for sergeants.

The discussion was an Impasse Hearing after the Town’s Management Team failed to reach an agreement with the police union. Currently, the police officers and sergeants receive town benefit contributions into a 401(a) account. The Town Commission and Manager desire to keep a defined contribution model that allows predictability in cost for the commission and by proxy, the taxpayers.

The Town’s labor attorney, Reynolds Allen, said that the Police were offered the same deal as Fire and they turned it down. He added, “We do not want to be in a  position where someone tells our citizens what they will pay.”

Allen explained that in 2013, when the Fire Department entered the state retirement system, the town agreed to pay 10 percent of the cost annually and the Firefighters agreed to pay the balance through wage reductions. He said the police decided not to do this, and so the town offered three years of annual increases instead.

The Police Department was allows by the Town to enter the Florida Retirement System in 2013, but at the time gave up 11 percent wages as part of the then negotiation. At that time, the Police Union was offered the ability to join the FRS, but it declined. In short, the Police Department received pay increases in 2013 and opted to not enter the FRS.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor spoke against the idea of entering the FRS system and told Longboat Key News he has been wary of defined benefit programs since 1975 and the collapse of major U.S. companies underscore his thinking, he said.

The Police Department will hold a vote of the union members to ratify the Town’s contract offer. If approved, the contract will be in effect until 2022 and retroactively from Oct. 1 due to a motion made by Pastor to that effect.

If the ratification fails, the town commission can impose its offer for one year and negotiations will continue.

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