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

December 2nd, 2009
City council approves public safety pacts

thomaidesjonesSan Marcos City Councilmembers John Thomaides (left) and Chris Jones (right) put questions to city staff about contracts with the police and firefighters. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

With two 5-2 votes Tuesday night, the San Marcos City Council approved employment agreements with police and firefighters worth $2.7 million during the next three years.

The agreements will raise average salaries for the city’s 95 sworn police personnel by $19,400 at the end of three years, while 52 firefighters would be increased an average of $20,000 per year after three years.

Councilmembers John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose cast the only votes against the two meet and confer agreements. Each vote came after a lengthy round of questioning that mostly consisted in Thomaides and Councilmember Chris Jones asking for specifics from city staff.

Thomaides said he supports provisions of the police contract offering education incentives, residency incentives and more latitude in the police chief’s hiring ability, but he opposes the increases in longevity and base pay.

Responding to a question from Thomaides, San Marcos City Manager Rick Menchaca said a market study conducted recently by the city indicated projected turnover rates for the police and fire departments without the new contracts would have been at an “acceptable level.”

Menchaca and Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison said the city’s police and firefighters are paid at market rates even without the contract that will increase their salaries.

“Both police and fire have the lowest turnover rates in the entire organization, of all of our departments,” Thomaides said. Menchaca did not dispute Thomaides’ assessment.

However, Menchaca said the city should offer more competitive compensation to police and fire fighters to make sure they stick around longer than three to five years, which is when the city sometimes loses those employees to other cities.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said that while she “appreciated the dialogue” concerning the employment agreements and considered questions raised by critical colleagues to be valid, those questions had already been addressed by the city’s staff, whose judgment should be trusted.

Narvaiz said that the city is beginning to experience the retirements of its finest police officers and fire fighters, who would be difficult to replace, as “we are in a different world today,” in her words. Narvaiz said that although police and firefighters do not necessarily address major public safety issues every day, they do provide somewhat “unnoticed” daily services to the community “that no one talks about,” such as helping senior citizens install and check fire alarms and being first responders to all car accidents.

“Yes, we are all in the private sector, but we don’t put our lives on the line like when firemen or police officers go to their jobs,” said Councilmember Pam Couch, arguing for the contracts. “We all have to be smart business people up here, but in my line of thinking, there’s not enough money to pay any of y’all for the kind of job you perform.”

But Thomaides said the agreements do not seem designed to make the city safer because they do not increase the numbers of fire fighters or police officers in the city. Thomaides said during “troubling economic times,” when those in the public sector are not generally experiencing pay increases, the council should not give fire and police pay increases of the magnitude stipulated in the agreements.

“In terms of recruitment, in terms of retention, and in terms of pay parity, we are right there with a lot of our peer cities,” Thomaides said.

Bose said it might not be fair to offer police officers and fire fighters the pay increases stipulated in the agreements without offering increases to other city employees.

“I don’t want to put us in a stranglehold we can’t afford,” Bose said.

Included in the funding obligation sections of the two contracts are clauses allowing meet and confer negotiations to open for 60 days to reach a new deal if the city council determines that it cannot meet the funding obligations after considering “operational and administrative costs, including its debt service obligations, the increases in other employee personnel costs, and the obligations arising under this Agreement.”

The collectively bargained deal for firefighters includes a $742,000 wage package that provides an average compensation increase of 4.7 percent per year. The agreement increases fire fighter base pay 2.25 percent in year two and 2.25 again in year three of the contract. The agreement includes a longevity pay scale that would pay a 20-year veteran an extra $2,640.

The agreement sets aside $50,000 as incentives to encourage fire fighters to live within the city limits. Of the San Marcos Fire Rescue’s 52 fire fighters, eight live within the city limits. The city will determine what form the residency incentives will take at a later date. The agreement also offers association business leave pay for fire fighters conducting business for their bargaining organization, the San Marcos Professional Fire Fighters Association (SMPFFA).

The police officers’ new employment agreement includes a $1.8 million wage package that provides across-the-board raises of 1.75 percent in year two of the contract and 2.25 percent in year three for the city’s 95 police officers. The employment agreement includes a longevity pay scale capping at an extra $4,008 for a 20-year veteran. The agreement includes numerous other “soft pay” salary additions for night shift differential, educational attainment and multiple languages.

The agreement allows the police chief to choose every fifth new hire according to his own discretion, rather than be bound by law to choose the highest-scoring applicant on a civil service examination.

As of Nov. 2, the city had paid law firm Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal (DNRB) more than $70,000 to represent the city in about 14 nine-hour rounds of meet and confer negotiations with each professional association. In early November, the city council in early November voted to pay up to $45,000 more to the DNRB for its work. DNRB drafted the employment agreements with the two associations.

In 2005, San Marcos voters approved civil service for police and fire fighters. The city has negotiated with the police and fire fighters for the last year under Menchaca, who became city manager in May 2008.

Each agreement is for three years, expiring at the end of 2012.

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0 thoughts on “City council approves public safety pacts

  1. I am still in thoughts about this decision but I am leaning to support NOT giving raises at this time. My fourth grade teacher was a police officer and I have great respect for what officers and firefighters do in this city, but is this the time to give raises?

    Comparatively to cities our same size, the police and fire have the same or slightly higher pay, and today we are in a recession. Commissioners Court did not give themselves raises and in the private sector there have been a lot of job cuts. You can walk around the city, even the square, and see restaurants and businesses that we all love with vacancies where they used to be.
    During times of recession we do need to bolster our services to the community but that should only be if needed and if needed then it should go to hiring new officers, not increasing pay.

    The firefighters and police officers union has flexed its muscles, it seems, and won, but at what cost?
    I am not very familiar with the City budget but I expect that with fewer taxes coming in the city is going to have to cut funding or projects in some place.

    We need to concentrate on infrastructure. Whenever students ask for bike lanes and sidewalks all I hear is, “the city must fix some infrastructure first”. Let’s fix it! Let’s start using the City master plan and invest in long-term returns that will benefit ALL CITIZENS.

  2. The taxpayers of San Marcos got screwed Tuesday night by a vote of 4 to 2 to approve the Police Union Contract. Most of us expected for the agenda item to be tabled for right now because there were so many questions being raised. Mayor Susan! knew that it was now or never. If she didn’t get these passed before more people became aware of the huge cost of political pay back for the cops, she would never get it through. Several councilmen asked the city manager to address some of the serious questions regarding the contract that have been publicly discussed on Newstreamz. The staff just lied or phrased their answers in such a way that misinformation was used without actually lying. For example, at one point the question was raised by John Thomaides as to where this would put San Marcos in comparison with the other cities used in the salary survey. The City Manager answered that this would put us in the top one third. That is technically correct. San Marcos would be, by far, the number one paying city in the salary survey cities. First place is within the top one third so he did not tell a lie. The entire discussion went along those lines. At one point, Mayor Susan! tried to get the City Attorney to rule that one of John Thomaides questions to the Chief of Police was out of order because it was not listed on the agenda. Since nobody knew what the hell she was talking about, even the City Attorney had to tell the Mayor that John was not out of order. The 4 members who were for the union contract limited their discussions to what brave people we have as San Marcos Cops and we can never pay them enough to defend our lives. Blah, blah, blah.

    Then came the crowning blow. Last week, we were told that the Fireman’s union contract was still being negotiated. Surprise, surprise, it was put on the agenda tonight for approval. Since the cops are getting a $19,000 dollar a year raise, it was assumed that they had taken all the money and the firemen were going to be left with less. The council, with almost no discussion voted 4 to 2 to approve the firemen’s union contract giving every fireman, in the next 3 years, a $20,000 a year raise.

    I am finished with San Marcos politics. If we can elect 4 council persons and a mayor who are so interested in their little political careers that they would sell the citizens of San Marcos down the rat hole for a cheap endorsement, then we have not a chance of ever turning around the city or the police dept.

    Thank you John Thomaides and Mr.Bose. You tried but cheap politics and little politicians did us in.

  3. As I stated before, it was already a done deal, well before the table OR the vote.

    We (the people) indeed have a serious problem at City Hall.

    We’ll find out just how serious it is, long after our parasitic Mayor and her band of cronies have moved on to their next host.

  4. The City Manager is afraid of the Police and Fire union. He got cross with their counter-parts in Midland Texas before being run out of that town. He wants to make sure that does not happen in San Marcos. It is a pathetic display of leadership.

    Mayor Narviaz obviously sold her soul to the local polce and fire union to gain their support to get re-elected. Now the police officers and firefighters know what it feels like to be a prostitute.

  5. Raises equal to 125% of the TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY of most of our residents.

    How about we spend some more time, money and energy on the poor folks in San Marcos? We now have (reportedly) the highest paid police and fire departments in the area, but we have people living below the poverty level at 2x the rate of Texas and 3x the rate of our neighbors in New Braunfels.

    Now that we have the police and fire departments taken care of, let’s move on to a far more pressing need and get some better education and job opportunities for the poor people in San Marcos.

  6. Those #’s are misleading… I have intimate knowledge of someone in a mid-level position over at SMPD and we have discussed this quite a bit. It’s been made to sound as if EVERYONE is seeing a $19,400 raise over the next 3 years and this is SO not true. My friend’s increase works out to right around $3750 total after the 3 years… Way off from $19,400. The $19,400 is simply taking the whole cost and dividing it by the 95 officers… VERY over-simplified as it’s a complicated system. It’s very likely that no two people will be making the same amount as it’s all based on grade/rank, time in service, times your shift starts, degrees held, languages spoken, etc…

  7. hahahahahaha, we are actually handing over more money to the same “people” who will in the near future be literally tearing residents from their homes when many can no longer pay their ever increasing taxes alsongside their mortgage. Everything is going up on the average citizen, EVERYTHING, but the police need to be compensated because they’ll be doing the dirty work soon enough.

  8. Eddie, better schools and better job opportunities would lead to citizens with more disposable income and more sales tax generated locally, as opposed to relying so heavily on out of town visitors to the outlet mall.

    That would seem to be the best way to pay for all of the infrastructure and services that we will need – by growing the city in a manner that can be self-sustaining.

    The alternative, I suppose, is an increasing reliance on the malls, with more and more of our money going right back to them, for marketing assistance. In that case, “we” won’t pay for a lot of it. “They” will. Until they run out of money, or find some other place to shop, or we outgrow their wallets.

  9. I guess the third option is that we can just keep borrowing money to pay for everything. I can’t imagine any harm in that…

  10. What is the city getting? No one has asked this question. This is a meet and confer contract. That means both sides enter into an agreement that they see as beneficial to each other. Do not be blinded by the math. The City of San Marcos is getting something out of this deal that has not been reported. So it makes me wonder why the city would not publish what they are getting.

    If you think this is bad wait until the Hays Co Sheriff’s Assn starts their Collective Bargaining process. In a Collective Bargaining contact the County has to come to an agreement or a Judge decides what the contract will be. Do a little research and you will find out that the most expensive contract (SA and Austin) were from a judicial order.

    You have nothing to complain about yet. Wait until your county taxes go up. I hope you will all be voicing your opinions when that process starts.

  11. It was the change that we all believed in that led to the massive 70% approval for the Sheriff’s Assn Collective Bargaining process in the 2008 election. We have no one to blame but ourselves on that one. Democratics always vote infavor of labor issues. This administration will make these types of things common place on the nation level also.

  12. Not all badges are real, not all pork is edible, and not all things are what they seem. We as a public are easily misled including myself by politicans, the media, and people with an agenda.

  13. I like to reserve final judgment on things like this until all the facts are out on the table, but in this case I fail to see how the deal actually benefits the majority of citizens. Obviously no deal is going to make everyone happy 100% of the time, but everywhere I go I hear nothing but disdain for this issue. Maybe some more details will unfold in the weeks to come, but for now I find myself wondering how this was passed.

  14. Our Mayor needed a little extra support in the last mayoral election, since that time around, instead of enjoying the luxury of running unopposed again, she was suddenly faced with the unplanned and inconvenient burden of having an opponent.

    SMPOA and SMPFFA (police and firefighters unions)stepped up to provide blockwalking, endorsements, badmouthing and police lights and sirens fanfare taxi service for her re-election effort. In return for these favors, our Mayor repaid them with this contract, which leaves her taxpaying constituents with the exorbitant tab for that part of her re-election campaign.

    There apparently was not enough left over from her $100,000.00 in campaign contributions to reward them in a proper manner.

  15. The process here gets in the way of some of the conspiracy talk. The police representatives and the law firm hired by the city entered negotiations to reach the final raises. As with any negotiation, the police likely demeanded more than they got and the law firm started by offering less than they ended up giving. The merits of each sides positions dictated where the settlement fell in the channel between the demand and offer. They reached a deal which was brought to the Council for an up or down vote. To vote down the proposal, a councilperson had to feel the City’s representatives did a bad job negotiating AND new negotiations would yield lower final raises. The prior posters seem to think the answers to both ends of this are yes, but I can’t see how the Mayor corrupted the process. (The police supported her because she was going to win, and she would have won without the police)

    Finally, why begrudge the police and fire for negotiating a good deal for themselves and their families? Each of us likely seeks the best compensation package for ourselves at our jobs, why should the cops be held to a different standard?

  16. I don’t begrudge the police. I don’t even question whether they deserve the money. I’d just like to focus on getting the city to a place where we can afford this salary increase and cover the extra officers we need today, plus the officers we will need tomorrow, as we continue to grow.

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