Hundreds of San Antonio police officers and firefighters packed city hall Wednesday to hear recommendations on how to reign in the city’s public safety costs.
The 13-member Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force said public safety costs could surpass general fund revenues as early as 2024 unless changes were made.
The group separated their recommendations into four categories: Policy and Budget, Pension, Pre-funded Uniform Retiree Healthcare, and Healthcare.
The task force found that the pension system, which is governed by state laws, is well-funded.
They also recommended that the city explore bridge insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.
Much of the meeting was spent discussing the healthcare benefits of active-duty uniformed personnel.
Police officers and firefighters currently pay no premiums and have some of the lowest deductibles in the state, but union officials argue wages are not on par with cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston.
Former District 8 city councilman Reed Williams, who chaired the task force, made the presentation to city council members. He said past votes that he was a part of helped contribute to the rising cost of public safety.
“We have had an increase in non-public safety support expenses. We approved fire stations, we approved more police officers. That’s what citizens wanted,” Williams said.
Williams acknowledged that the city is not in a crisis, but the group’s projections indicate that something must be done.
“(Public safety) costs money. You don’t do it for free, and that’s why this line is growing,” he said. ”You’ve got to look at this problem not just from one expense item, two expense items. You've got to look at the overall public safety (budget) and you can do that."
After the meeting the police and firefighter’s unions held a press conference and issued a minority report blasting the task force’s report and city manager Sheryl Sculley.
“'I’m disappointed that the council didn’t get to hear both sides of the story. Once again we were given one-sided information, which was my complaint to begin with,” said SAFD Lieutenant and task force member Jerry Cortez. “There is no doomsday (scenario). That's a fantasy that was created by the city manager. It’s a $2.4 billion error."
City council members said the recommendations will serve as a foundation for collective bargaining negotiations.
“I've told the unions of course we're willing to take the information that they have as well so that we get a good sense of the numbers that are out there and then make our own determination,” said Mayor Castro.
“I think the best approach this afternoon will be to take in the recommendations and listen,” District 7 Councilman Cris Medina said. “I know (the task force) worked extremely hard to listen to the concerns of some of the projections we're looking at, but at the same time our number priority must be public safety.”
“I think it’s important to note the city council won’t be negotiating with the unions," District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg. "This is a collective bargaining process that needs to be respected, and so looking at the recommendations we can give a policy direction from council, but we have to make sure we are all seeing the same things in the numbers.”
Any changes to the healthcare plans of uniformed personnel will have to be made during the collective bargaining process.