By ELAINE DE VALLE
While the matter was not on the agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting, dozens of Coral Gables police officers showed up at City Hall on Tuesday to show their distaste for a 7.5 percent pay cut proposed by the administration.
Wearing T-shirts that read, ``My life isn't worth 7% less,'' the officers stood side by side as their president gave a short speech after Mayor Don Slesnick spoke.
Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 President John Baublitz said he couldn't be too specific because the city and the union are at impasse over contract negotiations, meaning the commission will make the decision. That could happen as early as next week.
Coral Gables, like many cities, is contending with a budget shortfall due to lower property tax revenues. City Manager Patrick Salerno has proposed a 7.5 percent salary decrease for members of the police and general employees union and a 5 percent salary cut for firefighters. The firefighters union voluntarily took its 5 percent pay cut in a contract signed this summer.
The police union is still negotiating with the city.
``We know the mayor and commission will do the right thing and keep the citizens safe,'' Baublitz said outside City Hall. ``These cuts will decimate the department.''
Baublitz said the cuts would not allow the Gables department to compete with other agencies across the county. The Gables department provided the fourth best pay and benefits from 16 police agencies in the county five years ago, he said.
``Now we are 13 out of 16,'' he said. ``Every other department in the county has a better retirement plan. If they do the cuts they want to do now, we won't be able to keep anyone. All the young officers with less than 10 years on the force, they'll have to leave.''
Salerno scoffed at that notion.
``We lose officers now. People leave for family reasons, for positions they think may be better,'' Salerno said, acknowledging that turnover might increase.
``I certainly would not want to lose police officers. However, this is, in many respects, an ability to pay issue on the part of the city,'' Salerno said. ``What we've asked for is for the police to make a pension contribution. They are the only bargaining unit that does not contribute.''
Other employees, including firefighters, have contributed 5 percent of their pay to the pension -- which comprises 45 percent of the city's budget -- for at least four years, the manager said.
``That's just simply a situation that is not one that is sustainable over the long term, and it needs to be addressed,'' he said, referring to the pension being nearly half of payroll costs.
He said the union representatives did not present any financial terms at the meeting last Friday, but sent a fax to the city's labor attorney, James Crosland, on Friday afternoon. The union asked for the multiplier on the pension to be 3.4 percent, rather than 3 percent. The change would allow someone who worked for the city for 20 years to 68 percent of his or her salary, rather than 60 percent.
``This is not a time to be asking for increased pension benefits,'' Salerno said. ``In these particular times, I am not aware of communities giving increased benefits.''
City commissioners are scheduled to hear both sides at a hearing at 10 a.m. Monday in commission chambers at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.