The News Gram was granted an exclusive interview with the administration of The City of Laredo on Tuesday to address the pressing issue of collective bargaining and how it affects their budget annually, and even quarterly, forcing the city to take several measures to free funds to address the growing concerns of both the Laredo Fire Department and the Laredo Police Department as their budget now encompasses 65%, and growing, to meet the needs of the two departments with absolutely no regard for those of the other departments or their employees.
Assistant City Manager Robert Eads informed The News Gram that a scandal within the Del Rio Police Department where the police chief and two other officers were let go due to missing confiscated funds and evidence which, while investigating the theft of thousands of dollars in cash and even illicit drugs, led to his eventual removal from his position there.
The union, in turn supported the two ousted officers when they ran for city council and they were subsequently elected with an agenda in mind. Their first item of business when sworn in as councilmen was to get rid of the city manager (Eads) who has since arrived in the Gateway City and is now working on a budget twice the size of Del Rio’s and dealing with a union twice as large. They also fired the police chief who replaced the former chief who while under his watch, the aforementioned incident took place.
Eads along with Deputy City Manager Cynthia Collazo, Budget Manager Martin Aleman and Finance Directress Rosario Cabello, outlined the nightmarish situation the city finds itself in after dealing with collective bargaining for over twenty years such as the fact that they have had to lay off 119 employees from other departments such as parks and recreation, public works, the bridge system and other key areas this fiscal year to free funds to deal with this issue.
Another aspect of collective bargaining is the issue of legal representation who will have to represent the city and its residents in court, an issue Collazo says can run into incredibly lengthy periods of time and money, “Once we had to deal with the fire department for eighteen months on one single negotiation.”
A situation that can become costly as legal counsel runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.
“Of all our revenues which include Property tax, sales tax and bridge revenues totaling $119,525,192.00, $111,505. 215.00 go to police and fire,” said Aleman who has done his home work in reference to how much of an impact the unionization of these two entities have had on the overall finances of the city.
The group said they even had to raise tolls at their international bridges in order to produce revenues to help them avoid cutting even more positions and ultimately services to the citizens.
“If Eagle Pass is forced to raise tolls on their bridge, this will force commercial traffic to cross in Laredo taking not only revenue from Eagle Pass, but neutralizing the expansion of the Camino Real International Bridge due to less traffic. That will affect Eagle Pass economically and will help Laredo in the long run who will take that traffic,” said Cabello.
“They’re pushing your city council to the limit especially if you have a balanced budget,” closed Collazo, “Don’t let them (association and union representatives) tell you there’s not going to be any increases because they’re lying to you.”
She added that this would be a significant negative impact that is going to be on our city’s budget, a serious impact that the city is not in a position to handle at this time or at any time in the future without raising taxes, cutting employees and ultimately services to the community.
“The main thing is, if you don’t have it, then the citizens need to keep it from happening. That is the key.”
Early voting on collective bargaining begins on April 25th and the general election will take place on May the 7th.
According to sources, if collective bargaining is implemented, it could mean costly additional legal representation for the city, additional Human Resources staff for review of qualifications, additional resources for testing, annual pay increases, time off for police officers handling the union’s matters which are paid by the city and the city would be forced to handle additional deductions & dues or assessments through payroll.