CORRECTION: We reported that a 1988 police union contract called for officers to pay $30 a month for prepaid health insurance, and receive a new "uniform allowance" of the same amount. The amount was actually $50 a month.
Today, let’s have a little history lesson.
In recent days, both City Manager Sheryl Scully and Mayor Julian Castro have raised the issue of rising “legacy costs” for San Antonio police and firefighters.
Scully talked about how these costs were pushing the total police and fire budget to the point that it is now two-thirds the total city budget, but current trends would have public safety taking up the entire budget by 2031.
Mayor Castro announced this week he is appointing a task force to address the problem.
It’s a problem that began 25 years ago when Castro was only 14.
It was 1988 and the San Antonio Police Officers Association was one of the most powerful forces at City Hall.
It was the largest single contributor to the campaign coffers of the mayor and city council, and it had a political phone bank that every elected official wanted on his or her side.
It also had a powerful, pugnacious president.
Sgt. Harold Flammia had heroically survived multiple bullet wounds to the torso from a shoot-out with a burglar.
He was ready to take on anyone who thought police officers didn’t deserve more – much more.
When it came to contract negotiations that year, all the cards were stacked on one side of the table.
As a matter of routine, a financial analyst from the city’s budget office attended negotiating sessions to estimate the costs of any proposals.
Midway through the negotiations she was told her services were no longer necessary.
The contract eventually included not only a nice raise, but an array of other benefits.
Certain holidays would yield triple-and-a-half overtime.
Anyone using city parks or facilities for charitable or other events would no longer be able to hire lower-paid Park Rangers or sheriff’s deputies for security.
They would be required to hire off-duty SAPD officers at time-and-a-half.
A police rock-and-roll band that made anti-drug appearances at schools was, by contract, relieved of all other duties.
But the biggest boost would be pre-paid retirement health benefits.
When officers retired they received the same health insurance as active duty officers for themselves and their families – at no cost.
The contract provided that a fund would be set up by having the City pay $67 per month for each uniformed employee, and each uniformed employee would pay $50 per month. [See CORRECTION at top]
Meanwhile, officers received a new “uniform allowance” of – you guessed it -- $50 a month. [See CORRECTION at top]
Where did those numbers come from?
City council didn’t ask. They approved the contract.
Then, on their very next agenda item, they ordered up an actuarial study to determine how much was needed to adequately fund pre-paid retirement health benefits.
The study determined the fund would be $10 million short a year at the beginning and that number would balloon as more and more officers retired.
Not long after, the firefighters’ union won a “me too” contract that included the same retirement health benefits.
For 25 years the City has been trying to catch up.
It has made some progress – but it has been expensive.
Now officers pay about $250 a month toward the fund. Those with children pay more.
But the city shells out about $500 a month for each of our nearly 4,000 cops and firefighters.
It’s still not enough, and that’s the problem the mayor’s task force has to address.
A footnote: The Christmas-tree contract also included $30 a month per officer for a fund to provide them legal insurance.
Union President Flammia would spend four years in a federal prison for taking $500,000 in kickbacks from an outside lawyer hired to administer that program.