COSTA MESA – The city’s police union has worked 578 days without a permanent contract in place, but that might soon change after the Costa Mesa Police Association announced Wednesday that it had reached a tentative agreement with the city.
The new contract proposal has yet to be released, but the Police Association’s recently-elected president, Detective David Sevilla, said Thursday that the tentative agreement involved rank-and-file officers increasing the amount they pay toward their pensions to 14 percent of their eligible income.
In return, those officers would receive a 9 percent raise, which the union said will go directly toward those increased pension payments.
The union said the deal offered a way for officers to pay more toward their pensions – shifting some responsibility for the city’s estimated $216 million unfunded pension liability – without taking money out of officers’ pockets. At the same time, the raises could give officers higher pensions when they retire.
The contract was recently approved by 95.5 percent of the union’s members, but the City Council will need to approve the deal before it is finalized. If approved, the contract would apply through June 2018.
“It just gives us some stability and the ability to recruit people here,” Sevilla said. “And for the officers that are here, it gives them a piece of mind to stay. It’s good for the whole city to get this contract done.”
Under the union’s most recent contract, officers paid 5 percent of their eligible income toward their pensions. But the union stopped paying any portion of those pension payments when it let a temporary agreement expire in February 2015.
The union said it didn’t want to renew a temporary contract because it had been operating without a fulltime contract since June 2014. At the time, Councilman Gary Monahan called the union’s decision to stop pension payments a “slap in the face.”
Costa Mesa’s unfunded pension liability presents the greatest threat to the city’s financial stability, and recent city documents credited $86 million of that burden to police pension obligations. The city’s Pension Oversight Committee has projected that pension payments will grow more rapidly than city revenue in coming years, and increasing police officer contributions is one way to curb that trend.
The reported details of the union’s new tentative contract appeared very similar to stipulations the union proposed in 2014, but Monahan said Thursday that the negotiations hashed out other points. He said the union made some concessions in recent months, such as giving up some vacation and sick pay.
“I don’t think anybody is really happy with this agreement at this time,” Monahan said. “But, like anything else, it’s a negotiation. There was a lot of back and forth, and this is what we came up with. We’ll ses how it flies when it comes to public view.”
Councilwoman Katrina Foley praised the contract as “a move toward stabilizing our police department.” That department has been understaffed in recent years, in part because officers continued to leave the city as quickly as new officers were hired.
Foley, Monahan and Councilwoman Sandy Genis are the only three City Council members who will vote on the new contract, because Mayor Steve Mensinger and Councilman Jim Righeimer are currently suing the city’s police union and have recused themselves from the negotiation process.
The councilmen’s lawsuit against the union stems from a series of 2012 events, during which two private investigators, hired by the police union’s law firm, illegally tracked and harassed the councilmen, according to court documents. Those documents show that the Costa Mesa Police Association raised membership dues to pay the law firm to dig up dirt on the politicians prior to the November 2012 election, but union representatives have said it did not instruct or know about any illegal acts beforehand.
Mensinger and Righeimer have said that their dispute is with the union’s previous leadership and that they support the rank-and-file officers.
The new contract will need to go before the City Council at two public hearings before it can be approved. Those hearings will likely take place on Feb. 16 and March 1 at City Hall.
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