Firefighters pension reform pending
The first big story of 2015 came in 2014.
Just before the end of the year, the union that represents Boca Raton’s firefighters announced that it had reached agreement with the city on a three-year wage and pension contract. The city had declared an impasse after the old contract expired on Oct. 1. An arbitrator had been scheduled to hear the dispute this week.
The new agreement isn’t final. First, the union’s 200 members must ratify it by a majority vote. Then the city council must approve it. John Luca, president of Local 1560, told me on Monday that while the two sides have worked out the terms, the agreement isn’t yet in writing. When it is, the union will present the proposal to its members, and the city will present it to the council.
Pension reform has been a council priority since Mayor Susan Haynie easily won last year’s mayoral election by defeating a Palm Beach County firefighter/council member, Anthony Majhess, who had strong backing from the fire and police unions. According to the union, the changes will save Boca Raton $6.5 million in pension costs over the three years of the contract and roughly $50 million over 30 years. Haynie said in an email that the deal “appears to achieve the meaningful pension reform we are seeking.”
Among other things, the deal would cap lifetime pension benefits for firefighters and reduce their annual pension cost-of-living adjustment from 3 percent to 2.5 percent. That change would apply to all firefighters, not just new hires. If someone had worked for 12 years and stayed for 12 more, the COLA would be based on 3 percent for the first 12 and 2.5 percent for the next 12. Such inflation bumps still may be more generous than the city can afford, but the drop at least would be a start.
Luca said the city wanted to get its pension costs down to 18 percent of total fire department payroll. This will happen, Luca said, by the third year of the contract. What does the union get? “A stable pension system.”
The fire union could have gone through the arbitration hearing, but the city council could have ignored any of the arbitrator’s recommendations and imposed the terms it wanted. If the union members and the city like the deal, relations between the firefighters and the city will be better, and Local 1560 will join others in making pension compromises that respect the taxpayers.
But the police are looking at arbitration
Despite the firefighters’ proposed contract, the Fraternal Order of Police and Boca Raton remain at odds. Unless that changes, the arbitration hearing in that case will take place Jan. 14 at city hall.
Delray Beach previously had reached agreement with the police union on a contract. The city now is negotiating with the firefighters, whose contract is up this year.
Delray’s big election
Last year, the big city election was in Boca. In 2015, it will be in Delray Beach.
Mayor Cary Glickstein and City Commissioner Shelly Petrolia will be on the ballot. Commissioner Adam Frankel is term-limited, so voters could decide a majority of seats, though at this point, Glickstein has no challengers.
Running against Petrolia is retired dentist Victor Kirson, who lost a 2012 commission run. Three candidates have filed paperwork to run for the Frankel seat: Chris Davey, who barely lost to Al Jacquet last year; Christina Morrison, who lost to Jacquet three years ago; and Bruce Bastian, an advocate for making Delray more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly. The qualifying period for candidates begins Jan. 27 and concludes Feb. 10.
With Commissioner Jordana Jarjura, Glickstein and Petrolia for the last year have formed the majority that forced out former City Manager Louie Chapman and hired Don Cooper; Frankel and Jacquet didn’t even attend the meeting at which Cooper was hired.
Of the three candidates seeking to replace Frankel, Davey probably is closest in sentiment to Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia. Those three don’t agree on every issue, but they have agreed on the need to improve city management and update development rules.
Ironically, though Jarjura came onto the commission a year after Glickstein and Petrolia, she could be off the commission first.
When voters chose Glickstein and Petrolia, they also approved a change that term-limits the mayor and commissioners after two terms of three years, not three terms of two years. Glickstein’s and Petrolia’s expiring two-year terms probably would not count against a new pair of three-year terms. If Glickstein and Petrolia won this year and could run for reelection, they would be term-limited in 2021. Jarjura would have to leave in 2020.
And Boca’s election
In Boca Raton, term limits hit Constance Scott, who holds the Seat C council seat. Armand Grossman and Jeremy Rodgers, both newcomers, are running.
In Seat D, Robert Weinroth won last year in the race to succeed Majhess, who left the seat to make that losing run for mayor. One year was left in the term, so Weinroth—if he wins this year—could run for another three-year term in 2018 and serve a total of seven years, even though Boca also has a six-year term-limit system. For now, Weinroth is running unopposed.
Spring goal-setting for Boca
Haynie and the Boca council members will update their priorities at the spring goal-setting meeting. Since pension reform seems near, given the deal with the fire union and the city’s leverage with the police union, the biggest short-term priority will be negotiations with Hillstone Restaurant Group to operate a Houston’s on the old Wildflower property at Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue along the Intracoastal.
Last September, the council authorized staff to start formal talks. The two key issues are a design that would work for a site with limited parking and a lease that would offer Boca Raton a fair return on the $7.5 million investment to buy the property in 2009. No proposal seems imminent, but both sides seem reasonably optimistic.
Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said in an email Monday, “The project is still moving forward. The lease terms are being negotiated.” Hillstone Vice President Glenn Viers, who was at the September council meeting, told me by phone Monday, “Everything I’ve heard has been positive.” He said the company’s architecture/design team has submitted material to the city. “We’re looking forward to getting this project up and running.”
The (big) Delray land development issue
One big item Delray Beach held over from last year is approval of new Land Development Regulations for the Central Business District. You can tell that it’s a big deal because of all the capital letters.
Twice the final version came before the city commission, and twice the city commission—correctly—asked for more revisions. This is not something that Delray Beach wants to take up again in a year, and it’s tough to encourage growth while retaining a small-city feel.
Meanwhile, though, development plans keep coming. Delray Beach had extended through Feb. 15 a rule that plans in conflict with the new rules, would have to wait for commission approval. Tonight, the commission votes to extend that deadline to May 15, unless approval of the updated downtown regulations comes sooner. And the commission could extend the deadline even more. Obviously, Delray’s goal is to get the rules right, not just get the rules done.
Vaping on the agenda
Also on tonight’s Delray commission agenda is a proposed ordinance to regulate e-cigarettes. They emit vapor, not smoke, and makers and retailers say they are much safer than traditional cigarettes.
As the memo from City Attorney Noel Pfeffer says, however, the American Heart Association believes that local governments should include e-cigarettes in products covered by the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which would ban their use in restaurants, among other places. Though the vapor is much less toxic, it could contain nicotine.
The proposed ordinance is up for “commission discretion.” Expect an interesting discussion on the potential danger of secondhand virtual smoke.
You can email Randy Schultz at email@example.com
For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author
Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.
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