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April 20, 2014

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THE LEGISLATURE:

City, county may lose say in police pay negotiations

Under amendment, union would talk with sheriff only

Beyond the Sun

Under a last-minute amendment approved by a Senate committee Friday, the union that represents Metro Police would negotiate contracts directly with the sheriff, barring from bargaining sessions representatives of Las Vegas and Clark County, which fund the police department.

Detective David Kallas, director of government affairs for the Police Protective Association, who introduced the amendment in the Senate Government Affairs Committee, said eliminating city and county representatives from the process “eliminates layers of bureaucracy that’s an impediment from coming up with a deal.”

The city and county “care about one thing — or mostly one thing — and that’s financial,” he said.

The contracts would continue to be ratified by the Metro Fiscal Affairs Committee, Kallas noted.

Testifying against the bill, Sabra Smith Newby, Clark County’s lobbyist, said under the amendment, “the person negotiating doesn’t pay the bill.”

The current government negotiating team includes Metro administrators and one representative each of Clark County and the city.

Negotiations for the next police contract will begin in 2010.

Any argument that police would get a richer contract under the arrangement is “ridiculous,” Kallas said. “It flies in the face of common sense.”

However, during testy negotiations in 2005 that ended up in arbitration, then-Sheriff Bill Young testified in favor of the union’s proposed pay increase, which was 3.75 percentage points higher than the county’s offer.

Lawmakers agreed with the union.

Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, said “the sheriff can certainly consult, and take who he needs, or she needs, when he does his negotiations.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said negotiating only with the sheriff, who he noted is an elected official, would “streamline that process.”

Kallas said recent negotiations illustrate why the change is needed. It took only five weeks as opposed to months to hammer out the one-year contract ratified by Fiscal Affairs in April.

The contract called for no net pay increase, but the county agreed to cover all, not just half, of a 3.5 percent increase in contributions to the state retirement system. (The base pay of a Metro recruit will be $49,196. Excluding overtime and benefits, the salary range for a Police Officer I is $51,164 to $72,826. A Police Officer II’s range is $56,390 to $80,265.)

Kallas said the latest negotiations went so smoothly because the union went directly to the sheriff and elected officials. “The only reason it worked was because we went outside the system,” Kallas said.

The maneuvering by the police union comes as the county and city have asked employee unions for concessions on pay increases to bridge their budget gaps. Clark County, which faces a $123 million hole, funds about 60 percent of Metro’s budget. Las Vegas, which pays the rest, is facing a $150 million shortfall over five years.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, one of two commissioners on Fiscal Affairs, said having county and city negotiators at the table allows them to balance the police contract’s cost with other needs in government, such as child protective services and the Fire Department.

“I have the utmost respect for the sheriff and he knows his department well, but he doesn’t know what the other departments are doing or going through,” Sisolak said.

During the turbulent 2005 negotiations, the union requested a four-year, 25.6 percent salary increase, while the county sought a 21.85 percent increase.

The arbitrator, who chose the county’s offer, hinted it was more than fair because it exceeded the Consumer Price Index for the period. The decision saved taxpayers $17 million.

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