After two years of negotiations with public safety unions, the Oxnard City Council this week approved new contracts that include pay increases but require employees to contribute toward their pensions.
The contracts — already ratified by the Oxnard Peace Officers Association, International Association of Fire Fighters and Oxnard Public Safety Management Association — were approved Tuesday in a 3-1 vote by the council. The approval also included a new contract for the Service Employees International Union, which covers a large group of city workers, including parks and library employees.
“It’s been a long process, quite unpleasant at times,” Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez said.
She described the end result as not quite what the city or employees wanted but as middle ground.
“I wish everybody can be ecstatic about it, but no, we’re going to be satisfied with it,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to move on from this contentious time we all lived through.”
According to the contracts, police, police management and fire employees will receive an incremental pay increase that equates to 8.5 percent by 2018. In turn, those employees will make incremental contributions to their pension that will total 5 percent by 2018.
For Service Employees International Union employees, wages will rise incrementally to total 9 percent by 2019. Employee pension contributions will increase incrementally to 7 percent at the same time.
City Manager Greg Nyhoff said the contracts will cost the city for the next several years, but in 10 years without the need to contribute fully to employee pensions, the city will save $6.5 million.
Councilman Bryan MacDonald was absent from the meeting. Councilman Bert Perello voted against the contracts.
Perello said he needed more analysis to show how the city can save $6.5 million in the long term and where the savings come from.
“I want the employees who work for the city of Oxnard to understand I’m not against them getting a raise, but I am against them getting a raise when the numbers they’re based on cannot be verified,” Perello said. “And if, in fact, the numbers that can’t be verified are wrong, there will be cuts in services. And when there’s cuts in services, that’s people’s jobs.”
Nyhoff said he will present the council at a future date with a 10-year forecast comparing figures with and without the new union contracts .
Assistant City Manager Maria Hurtado said an increase in employee wages does not equal an increase in employee pension contributions on a 1-to-1 ratio.
“The budget model is very complex. It’s tied to each individual employee,” Hurtado said. “We just didn’t want to confuse the issue.”
A couple of speakers during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, Jim Lavery and George Miller, criticized the city for not having a clear explanation of how the city can have long-term savings when employee salaries will increase.
Lavery also asked Nyhoff about the $4 million in employee concessions, once pitched as a needed measure to balance the city’s budget. Without the $4 million in savings from the new union contracts, Lavery asked how the city was able to close the budget gap.
Nyhoff said the city made budget adjustments after finding long-vacant positions on the books as well as unexpected increases in property tax revenues.
In other council business, an amendment to a contract totaling up to $896,000 with an auditing firm was approved. The city last year entered a three-year agreement with Eadie & Payne LLP worth $317,000 to conduct the city’s next three audits. It turned out the amount was not enough to cover one audit.
The discovery of poor accounting practices by the city for many years gave auditors more work than anticipated, according to the city.
The council earlier this year approved two amendments to the contract totaling $293,000 in addition to the original contract amount. The amendment approved Tuesday is the third, and the amount is expected to cover the next two audits.
Representatives from the auditing firm gave the City Council and Fiscal Policy Task Force an update on a state controller’s review of the city’s audit. Controller Betty Yee’s office is conducting a review to make sure the city’s auditors performed work in accordance with governmental auditing standards.
Don Ecker of Eadie & Payne said that after meeting representatives from the controller’s office, he was told the review would be complete in coming weeks. Ecker said a report totaling two or three pages will be released, and it’s not expected to include any material findings.
“There will be a celebration shortly,” Ecker said.
The controller’s office declined to provide an update on the review. Jennifer Hanson, a spokeswoman from the office, said audit standards prevent her from commenting until a report is final.