BALCONES HEIGHTS, Texas – Balcones Heights city employees are on edge after City Council members proposed a budget that includes reducing retirement benefits and increasing health care costs for them.
Currently, for every one dollar an employee puts toward their retirement, the city matches $2. The city employees also currently have 100 percent health care coverage.
Councilman Jesse Pacheco, along with Councilman Jack Burton and Councilman Charles White, feels the money should be reallocated to fund capital improvement projects such as infrastructure and road maintenance.
Mayor Suzanne de Leon, Councilman Stephen Lara and Councilman Lamar Gillian disagree, saying there is no need to reduce money from hardworking city employees to save on a budget that is balanced.
Employees of the police and fire departments are upset because they feel this will only hurt their retention rates, as their benefits will not keep or attract quality employees.
The proposal states a 1 to 1 match for retirement and would require city employees to pay 14 percent. If approved, this would save the city around $200,000.
Public hearings will be held Sept. 17 and Sept. 20, with the budget going up for a vote Sept. 24.
Budget Proposal Breakdown:
- Total budget expenses $9,601,487
- Total payroll costs $4,203,896
- Percentage payroll of expenses 43.78%
- Highest Gross Salary $131,339
- City cost $163,216
- Lowest Gross Salary $30,627
- City cost $47,722
“It is critical to look at an adjustment at this point before we get in a position in 10 years to have an imbalance take over,” Pacheco said. “What is truly fair for us is to balance and manage our long-term maintenance requirement and our infrastructure.”
“We are going to lose some very qualified staff, and that is going to eventually reflect down and affect our residents,” Leon said. "We don't need to make these drastic knee-jerk reactions right now, because if we do, it will definitely hurt our staff. We do not need to improve our budget on the backs of city employees.”
“I have personally spoken to some firemen and police that are at that retirement age and were going to wait five more years before retiring,” police Patrolman Devon Wilborn said. “With this cut to their retirement, it basically wouldn't be any type of benefit for them to stay. They would end up losing money if they were to stay.”
“They need to take a step back and look at all the work we do to protect this city,” Wilborn said. “They need to look at it from a law enforcement perspective, and from the perspective of a city employee protecting the peace and even from a good city employee’s standpoint. They need to understand what it is like to kiss our loved ones goodbye at the end of the day, not knowing if we are going to return home. They don't have that mindset and are not aware of what it takes to leave your loved ones at home.”