Council approves employee contracts

COSTA MESA — There were months of negotiations, heated debates, numerous closed sessions, a councilman who boycotted some of the talks and pressure by the Republican Party of Orange County to vote no.

But in the end the City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve new contract terms for the city's three employee unions and its 21 executives. Council members Wendy Leece, Katrina Foley and Gary Monahan voted in favor while Mayor Allan Mansoor and Councilman Eric Bever dissented.

New terms are expected to save the city about $3.6 million for the first year, and a total of $7.2 million.

"I feel like I have a gun to my head on both sides," Monahan said before voting for the new agreements. "There's ramifications for all of us on both sides, no matter how we vote."

Leece, who is running for reelection, also faced pressure. She was contacted by GOP leaders and urged to vote against the contracts and hold out for less generous terms.

In their effort to close this year's remaining $9.5-million deficit, Costa Mesa officials opened talks with its five unions and executives to find ways to cut costs and balance the budget.

The projected savings, however, are not enough and the city may have to make more cuts or layoff more employees, City Manager Allan Roeder warned.

Yet not voting to approve the contracts would cost the city about $14,000 a day, or about $250,000 a month, Foley said.

"It's real money we're talking about," Foley said, adding that this $250,000 could cover the after-school programs the city dropped for lack of funds, or it could go into fixing streets and roads.

Bever said he values the employees and wants Costa Mesa to keep them but believes the city needs to make fiscally sound decisions.

"Staff is definitely high on the list, but the community comes first," he said. "We need to keep as many of you as possible."

Bever, who boycotted some of the negotiations with the employee groups, had wanted to wait until after the Nov. 2 election because the public safety unions were spending money in hopes of influencing the outcome of the election.

Monahan also said he had a problem with the length of the contracts.

The council voted to cap the medical benefits of its 21 executives to this year's levels for the next two years, in addition to suspending their professional development program.

The 21 executives, as well as the police, employees, and police management associations each agreed to pick up some of the city's contributions to the pension accounts and suspend retirement health savings programs.

The employee association agreed to collect 2% of its annual salary at age 60, in addition to committing 7% of employee contributions for new hires.

Current employees can collect their full benefits at age 55 with 2.5% of their salaries.

The police association also agreed to suspending cash payouts on holiday, vacation and compensation time.

The two police associations' contracts are valid through 2014, and the employee association's contract was extended until 2013.

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