Park Ridge mayor rejects union contract

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Citing Park Ridge's precarious financial condition and the need to keep property taxes as low as possible, Mayor David Schmidt vetoed a contract with one of the city's five employee unions and pay raises for non-union employees.

Schmidt's veto of the raises and three-year contract with the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs, which represents 32 employees in the community development, finance, police and public works departments, triggers an automatic sustain-or-override vote on Sept. 17.

Schmidt said his veto came "with great reluctance, but with even greater certainty it needs to be." The city's general fund, which pays for basic services, must cover a shortfall in projected revenue from the Uptown Tax Increment Financing District. The effort intended to support redevelopment in downtown Park Ridge, known as Uptown, is not generating enough the property tax revenue to pay its debt. The general fund must be tapped to cover the projected $1 million hit in the current fiscal year, with more to come, Schmidt said.

"So, ultimately, while people talk about fairness and principle, this is truly a question of math," Schmidt said, reading from a prepared veto statement. "If we continue on our present course, the general fund could be bankrupt in just a few years, and then there will be no money at all to pay for employees, police and fire protection or any other service paid through the general fund."

While noting the need to be fair to city employees, Schmidt said the $75,000 price tag for raises in the 2012-13 fiscal year is unfair to Park Ridge residents who must pay for it all.

"The aldermen do not represent the employees; they represent their neighbors and constituents who are the people who have to pay the city's bills," Schmidt said.

Aldermen had approved both the contract and the raises on Aug. 20.

The contract, which would be retroactive to May 1, would expire April 30, 2015. It allows a "re-open" clause to renegotiate wages and insurance for the final year. Also among its terms:

• Employees will pay 11.5 percent of medical and dental insurance monthly premiums, up from 10 percent.

• Salary "steps" increase from six to 10; employees at the top of the salary scale get 1 percent raises this fiscal year and 1.5 percent raises next year.

• The union won't strike or engage in work stoppages or slow-downs, and the city won't lock out employees.

Rich Bruno, a staff representative for the union, stands by the contract.

"We negotiated a fair and equitable contract with benefits to the city" including additional employee contributions to health insurance and reduction in vacation days for new employees, Bruno said. "It was beneficial to both sides."

Cathy Doczekalski, the city's human resources manager, said negotiations are ongoing with Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents Public Works Department employees, and with Lodge 16 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which now represents police sergeants in addition to patrol officers. The sergeants' bargaining unit was certified by the Illinois Labor Relations Board in January 2011.

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