City rejects union offer

HARLINGEN — The clock is ticking on union talks seeking new police and fire contracts by the end of the month.

Yesterday, the city rejected the police officers’ union request for a return to a state retirement system the city scrapped in 2007.

“We know the clock is ticking,” John Sierega, director of field services for the Texas Municipal Police Association, told city officials in a meeting.

The police officers’ union had proposed a three-year contract in which officers would forgo pay increases for the first two years in exchange for a return to the Texas Municipal Retirement System, or TMRS, which would cover all city employees.

Under the proposal, employees would contribute 7 percent, which the city would match two-to-one.

In 2007, the city scrapped the state retirement plan in favor of the private Texas Capital Group’s plan, in which the city matches employees’ 5 percent contributions one-to-one.

In a meeting yesterday, City Manager Dan Serna said city commissioners will not return to TMRS.

Serna said the TMRS retirement plan currently carries an unfunded liability of about $6 million.

But if the city returned to the plan, he said, the unfunded liability would climb to $10.7 million.

“We carry the unfunded liability, which ends up in our financial books,” Serna said.

At City Hall, officials are concerned the city might have to pay any unfunded liability to pay out employee retirement benefits.

“The policy decision has been made by the governing body. They made it very clear they’re not going back to TMRS,” Serna told union representatives. “It’s a budgetary issue. We don’t have the money for that.”

The city has offered the union a three-year contract that includes a $450,000 pay package focusing on officers with five or more years of experience.

The union had requested pay increases for officers with five or more years of experience, arguing the department was losing those officers to higher-paying jobs with state and federal agencies as well as some cities in the Rio Grande Valley.

But Serna argued the city offers salaries competitive with like-sized cities.

In the past two years, more than 30 officers have left the department for higher-paying jobs, Police Sgt. Tanya Sandoval, the union’s president, told Serna.

Serna asked union representatives to try to work with the city’s proposed pay increases.

“We have a finite dollar amount,” he said. “The dollar amounts have to remain the same. I only have what I have. If you’re going to tweak it, that’s OK.”

Meanwhile, the firefighters’ union is preparing another proposal for the city, union President Julio Zetina said yesterday.

Zetina said the union is tweaking the city’s proposal for a contract that would include about $385,500 in salary increases.

“I feel confident we can reach an agreement with the city,” Zetina said in an interview. “We’ve been working with the numbers and how they fit for us. I think we’re closer.”

This year, the city’s firefighters and police officers have worked under their contracts’ so-called evergreen clause, which expires Sept. 30, after the unions and city failed to reach agreements last year.


City’s proposal to police officers’ union: $450,000 pay package

City’s proposal to firefighters” union: $385,500 pay package