San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 17th, 2009
Council tables cop contract over out clause

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz  (left) Councilmember Pam Couch (center) and Councilmember John Thomaides (right) discuss a collective bargaining agreement with San Marcos police at Monday night’s city council meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The city’s approval of its first collectively bargained agreement with its police officers is on hold until next month.
The San Marcos City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting Monday night to postpone action on the deal, which would set forth conditions of employment and increase police pay for its present roster of 95 officers by $1.8 million during the next three years.

The sticking point is a funding provision at the end of the contract saying the agreement is “null and void in its entirety” if the city fails to appropriate the funds “sufficient to meet city obligations hereunder.”

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz proposed that the contract include language saying the city would prioritize meeting its debt obligations and fully funding “customary” pay increases for all city employees before addressing the meet and confer requirements.

From the seeds of Narvaiz’ suggestion grew a much larger discussion about the value of a re-opener clause, which would maintain the contract for some time while the city and police renegotiate if the city should be unable to fulfill the contract.

The proposed contract includes just such language in the event of a tax rollback election that leaves the city with less money than originally budgeted. The deal gives the city and the police 60 days to reach a new agreement on salary and compensation issues before the deal is voided.

The council later directed staff to draft language that would include the broader re-opener. The language would stipulate that if the city projects tax shortfalls because of an economic downfall, then it could re-open the agreement.

“I’ll vote on this the way it is, but I felt it important to try to put verbiage in there that says that there’s a commitment from this council, that there is an order to meet our obligation, to take a look at the whole organization and make sure that rewards can be given throughout the organization … ,” Narvaiz said. “The police and the fire associations have stated publicly in a number of discussions that they are as much of a team player as anyone, and that they know that there may be times when these discussions may have to be reopened, and that they would do so in good faith.”

The council voted, 6-0, for the tabling, with Councilmember Kim Porterfield having left before the vote.

City representatives will meet with the San Marcos Police Officers Association (SMPOA) during the next few weeks to discuss the proposed change. The city council will examine the new contract provision on Dec. 1 and possibly hold a vote at its second December meeting. In the meantime, SMPOA will hold another vote of police department members on the next iteration of contract. More than 50 percent of department members must cast votes in favor of the contract before it can be executed.

Members of the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) approved the latest version of the contract during a SMPOA meeting on Sunday. SMPOA President Danny Arredondo said Monday night that 76 percent of police department members voted for the contract, 15 percent voted against, and nine percent abstained from voting. Of those who voted, Arredondo said 83 percent cast votes in favor of the agreement and 17 percent opposed it.

Councilmember John Thomaides, sworn to his third term Monday night after carrying 63.4 percent of the vote in his Nov. 3 election, said he would be fine with tabling the contract until January. However, Thomaides said the city should be cautious about including a re-opener clause.

“If we put in a re-opening clause, I think that sends the message — I don’t think that’s fair to the police union who is negotiating this contract,” Thomaides said. “I think they’re requesting a contract that’s been hashed out over 11 months at a cost of $100,000 to the city, and I think if we are willing to sign it, we should stand behind it. You could really open up a can of worms each year when you say that all needs have to be met, because who decides what are the needs? That’s the decision of the council and the city manager, and then the police union might say, ‘Well, wait, we don’t like those needs.’ So, every year you’d create an adversarial relationship between those who are waiting for funding and those who are deciding who will be funded. So, I think we ought to think real carefully about how we go about re-writing anything.”

Narvaiz replied that she wants non-civil service employees to know that the council intends to see that they are fairly compensated each budget year.

Councilmember Chris Jones said he supports a re-opener provision, but for different reasons than Narvaiz.

“I can’t in a good mind say that, if something arises, and we are unable to pay this forward, that I would let everything that we negotiated in this contract just go null and void, I’m sorry,” Jones said during the Monday meeting.

The latest iteration of the police meet and confer agreement, which entails increases in base pay, education incentives and longevity, among other benefits, would cost the city an additional $317,572 for the first year of the contract, $610,040 for the second year and $918,527 in the third year, for a total of $1.8 million in increases. The city has already budgeted funds for the first year of the contract.

Thomaides said he had been under the impression that the contract would cost the city about $300,000 per year for three years, and was “disappointed” to learn that it was “much more than that.”

Said Thomaides, “I just think that in this difficult economy, that a $1.8 million increase — with the fire contract still to come — just isn’t fiscally responsible.”

Thomaides said he anticipates that the fire fighters will expect a very similar contract to emerge from their own meet and confer negotiations, though there are fewer members of that department — 60 members to the police department’s 92.

City Manager Rick Menchaca said “different market conditions” necessitate offering across-the-board wage increases rather than the performance-based wage increases offered to non-civil service employees. Menchaca said the investment in training and certifying police officers, and the difficulty in retaining them, is greater than non-civil service positions. Councilmember Pam Couch said it is important to keep in mind that the families and friends of police officers carry the burden of having to wonder whether their loved ones will be coming home after a given day’s work.

“And it’s harder to replace a public safety officer because of the background (check) and the training they have to go through than it is with other positions,” Menchaca said after the Monday meeting. “(Civil service pay and non-civil service pay) are both at market. For the most part, they’re both at market. But, now, on the non-civil side, what we’re trying to change there is that whole compensation model to, in time, reward our top performers. On civil service side, they don’t go on a performance basis because it’s not on how many arrests you make and how many tickets you make. It’s a totally different evaluation system.”

Earlier this month, the city council voted to pay up to $45,000 more to the law firm Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal (DNRB) for its work in negotiating police and fire department meet and confer contracts on behalf of the city. DNRB also is drafting the actual employment agreements with the SMPOA and the San Marcos Professional Fire Fighters Association (SMPFFA).

As of Nov. 2, the city had paid DNRB more than $70,000, which is the amount of the original contract. DNRB has represented the city in about 14 nine-hour rounds of meet and confer negotiations with each professional association. Thomaides cast the lone vote against the additional $45,000.

The city will continue meet and confer negotiations with the fire fighters — a whole separate contract — on Wednesday.

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0 thoughts on “Council tables cop contract over out clause

  1. I’m not sure about others but after Monday night I feel like the SMPD is using its block power to bully the “voter-wary” City Council into a non-performance based pay raise during an economic bust. Not to mention the number one concern voiced by citizens is that there are not enough police officers on the ground. But this agreement will not add one officer to the force, in fact, the entire 1.8 million dollars will be dispersed to all 95 current officers whether each individual officer deserves it or not. It is important to note that SMPD is paid on average higher than most regionally competing police agencies including Wimberley, New Braunfels, Kyle and Buda so there is absolutely no pay discrepancy to speak of. Let me put it this way… with multiple homicides, home invasions, sexual assaults and attempted murders in the last month alone in the city of San Marcos, do we truly believe handing over such an exorbitant sum of money to the same officers will do anything for the protection of the residents of San Marcos?

  2. Ummmmm, Dani?

    You may be showing exactly how much you DON’T know when you make statements and talk about a Wimberley and Buda police agency of which there is not one. The Hays Co SO polices both of these towns.

    But, your opinion is your opinion. Please just strive to make it an informed one. I agree we need more officers on the street but we also need to be able to attract quality applicants to fill those boots AS WELL AS retain the highly trained folks who we have already invested so much in.

    Have a very nice day!

  3. I humbly retract the salary figures in my post. I would also like to point out another flaw in my “ranting” logic. New Braunfels in fact pays officers on average slightly higher than SMPD. Hope you can accept my honest apologies. I’ll keep repeating to myself “think before you type, think before you type”.

  4. The job of putting officers on the street rests solely with the Chief of Police, City Manager, and City Council. They are the ones who have to decide that more officers are needed. A police association or police union, whatever you want to call it, works for the benefit of its current members in retaining them and getting them better benefits.

    Do we need more officers? Yes, let’s look at some numbers that have been put out in other articles in this news site. The population of San Marcos is about 50,000. I have seen that the university is at about 27,000. Those together are 77,000 people in the city. I have seen it reported on this site that SMPD has 95 employees. That works out to 1.23 cops for every 1,000 people. Depending on what sites you check you can find the needed amount of police officers per 1,000 people ranging from 1.3 to 2.0 officers per 1,000 people. That means that SMPD need between 100 and 154 officers. If we did not have the extra 27,000 students in our town then SMPD would be right on the numbers for the needed amount of officers.

  5. The population figure for San Marcos includes (an estimate of) student residents. If you removed Texas State from San Marcos the population would decrease by perhaps 2/3.

  6. Half of the students at Texas State are commuters. So the students who actually live here make up about 1/3 of the population. When looking at all this you also need to factor in the fact that the University has it’s own police force.

  7. Martha, I do not believe that you are correct. If you removed Texas State, the population of residents would drop by about 20%. Most of the students either commute or live in dorms (not sure if the ones in the dorms are counted in the population numbers).

    That being said, the police numbers required are based on the number of people here, not the number of residents. The commuters also get into accidents. They also get robbed. They also get assaulted. They also put a load on the police department.

    Since many of the students are gone in the evenings and on weekends, it might be more reasonable to work toward a staffing level at the low end of estimates for required officers per 1,000 people. I think it is safe to say that we could use at least 5-10 more officers on the streets and that number isn’t going to get any smaller, as the population continues to grow.

  8. Martha, you are wrong. The population accounts for where people LIVE on the actual census day (April 1, 2010 for the next census). So it includes the approx. 5,500 students in university-owned housing. Students living in private apartments don’t leave during the summer because of locked-in leases and jobs. The multifamily occupancy rate only drops a couple of percentage points in the summer months, which serves as evidence of this phenomenon. The approximately 14,000 students that commute from outside of San Marcos city limits are not counted in the population estimates. Approximately 10,500 students live in private housing in the city limits. Therefore, one can conclude that only about 5,500 students can be subtracted from the 2008 Census estimate of 52,927 during the summer months, making the summer population around 47,500. Otherwise, the estimate is accurate for the other nine months of the year.

    In fact, according to the US Census, San Marcos’ population increases by approximately 14.1% during the day, placing the daytime population around 60,390.

  9. Yes, the university has its own force, which operates under a mutual-aid agreement with SMPD. There are also a very substantial number of students who never use the campus at all, including those at the Round Rock Campus and various other remote locations as well as, likely, students enrolled in online or other courses. Unfortunately, UPD officers have no hammer to affect their state budget-driven salaries and pay scales.

    Somebody needs to recalculate the officer-per-citizen ratio, not forgetting how many police commissioned personnel don’t “work the street.”

  10. That is right you can cut that number of 95 down to about half once you subtract the administrators, school cops, mall cops, bar cops, motorcycle cops, drug cops, and detectives. That would leave about 47 to actually watch the streets. They work 10 hours shifts so you would need 6 shifts to cover 24 hours 7 days a week. Subtract 6 supervisors you have 41 patrol officers on 6 shifts. That would be about 7 per shift and depending on shift times the most you could possibly have on at one time would be 14 officers. I would comfortable with about 20 on the streets. Disclaimer these are just estimates based on information that I believe to be correct about the SMPD. My estimations could be wrong but I would bet they are close. Maybe an undercover SMPD officer could give us the real numbers. Please do not use your real name I would not want you to get in trouble.

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