Police negotiation failure will impact Austin city budget

Police car at night. April 7, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)
Police car at night. April 7, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a failed contract negotiation, Austin police officers are now getting paid based on Texas civil service law. That could drastically impact the city budget in 2018 after the Austin City Council already decided what it was going to pay for.

The Austin Police Department is funded through the city’s general revenue fund. If there are savings, they will go into the general revenue fund. If that money is not spent by Sept. 30, they go into the city’s budget stabilization reserve fund. City Council can make one time payments from the city’s reserve fund.

If the police budget goes over budget because of the changes, the council will have less money to spend on other services.

Right now, city staff is still projecting what the financial fall out will be. There are several factors that could impact the budget.

Without a contract, there’s no designated “specialty pay” for things like mental health training or time officers spend in court. If there is money leftover, City Council will decide what to do with it. If they don’t do anything until Sept. 30, then that money will go into the city’s reserve account.

Chas Moore with the Austin Justice Coalition helped organize civil rights groups and estimates savings could be more than $10 million by March. “Start spending that money in different ways and not waiting forever for the cops to come back to the table,” he said.

Moore urges council to move that money to youth programs, housing for homeless and mental health services — preventative programs. “I don’t think that money belongs to anybody. I think that money is taxpayer dollars and council should listen to the taxpayers about how they want that money spent.”

But city staff tell KXAN that $10 million figure might not be accurate, because while the city is saving money by not paying specialty pay, an internal memo from the city manager says that civil service law requires them to pay overtime now for lieutenants and commanders.

“All we expect is to be treated like the fire department and EMS,” said Police Association President Ken Casaday. He says in past city labor disputes, those other departments still received specialty pay. He thinks police should too.

“We don’t feel like they’ll discriminate against us because they didn’t with EMS and Fire,” said Casaday.

Until action from council, that unspent money could stack up. Operating under the old contract would have to be approved by City Council. Their first meeting is scheduled for February, but they could call a special session.

We dug into the current labor agreement and special pay some officers would still see.

Based on an ordinance signed in 1998 by then Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, special pay will still be granted for field training and bilingual pay. But special pay will no longer be given for shift scheduling considerations, like working overnights and education. That includes any officers who took special training for mental health.

Mayor Steve Adler is pushing for a temporary solution after almost a week without a contract with Austin police.

He sent a proposal to the City Council message board with the Mayor Pro Tem, Kathie Tovo, asking for police to work under the contract that expired in December for now. Adler says he then wants to bring more groups together, including City Council, staff, community activists and police, to figure out a more permanent solution. The Austin Police Association shot down Adler’s idea when KXAN presented it to them.

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