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Negotiations target wage reductions

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

The city of Cape Coral is predicting revenue shortfalls in 2012, and is hoping to find some balance at the negotiating table.
City Council directed City Manager Gary King and union negotiator John Hament to negotiate union concessions with eight collective bargaining units, according to a prepared statement issued by city spokeswoman Connie Barron.
Seventy-five percent of the city’s general fund budget is dedicated to personnel related costs, and unions represent more than 90 percent of the city’s employees.
Cape Coral Fire Fighters Union President Mark Muerth said the most recent negotiations took place on Tuesday.
Muerth said a 6 percent wage reduction and a 4 percent increase in pension contributions were proposed by the city’s labor negotiator for battalion chiefs and rank-and-file employees.
A net decrease of 10 percent, Muerth said the union would prefer those potential cost savings to go toward future debt, citing the city’s ailing Other Post Employment Benefits, or pension, fund as an example.
“The fundamental difference is, what do you do with the savings from the employees? The money we’re able to save needs to be used toward future debt like OPEB,” Muerth said. “We don’t want to see that money put in reserves and pay for sidewalk repair or median beautification … I suspect the 6 percent reduction is an attempt to put money in the coffers.”
Muerth said the union likely will make a counter proposal and return to the negotiating table in two weeks.
Muerth said he had never seen a press release like the one put out by the city on Nov. 1.
Having been at the negotiating table for nearly a year, and having gone through three separate union negotiators, Muerth also said the city’s need to sew up the negotiations is odd.
“To rush anything is kind of crazy. We’ve been at the table for 10 months,” Muerth said. “The city is in a giddy-up phase to get the process over and done.”
Based on “planning assumptions”, the city is predicting a 4 – 8 percent decline in property values next year.
Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said that projection might be slightly conservative, and that double digit declines are still possible, though he said it was merely “a guess” at this point.
Wilkinson said his office doesn’t start to examine the data until at least the first of the year.
“As property appraiser, we don’t have all the sales in, so we don’t know how they (the city) could determine that yet,” Wilkinson said. “We still have two months left before we even start our analysis.”