SAN ANTONIO -

The presidents of the San Antonio police and fire unions said the ongoing dispute over the cost of pensions and health care benefits is putting a strain on collective bargaining.

Michael Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association, said conversations with the city have already been tense.

“The first day we met was a tell- tale sign of what it’s going to be like and it was already starting off pretty adversarial,” Helle said. “I cannot remember a time when there’s been so much rhetoric from the city manager prior to sitting down at the table.”

Helle said City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s claim that the public safety budget will eat up the city’s entire general fund by the year 2031 created economic hysteria.

Sculley said the Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force’s recommendations to change the health care pension system supports her findings.

“The (Retirement and Healthcare Benefits) task force has supported the fact that there is a problem and whether we pick 2031, 2040, or as the task force studied, as soon as 2024, there is a problem,” she said.

The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association will begin negotiations later this year, but President Christopher Steele says a good-faith negotiation cannot take place until both sides iron out how much the benefits are costing the city.

“Lets battle these issues, but we do it in a fair open and honest manner,” Steele said. “We've negotiated clean contracts, both parties have signed those contracts now all of a sudden the city manager's saying, ‘Man, it’s too much, you’re breaking the city,’ there is an integrity issue there.”

The unions negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement every four years.

Helle said negotiations took nearly 18 months in 2009.

Sculley said despite the back and forth she’s looking forward to sitting down and hammering out a deal.

“I know they put their lives on the line each and every day,” she said. “We look forward to constructive conversations with them over the upcoming weeks and months.”