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Cape Coral police, fire overtime to be capped

Move to bring pension costs under control in line with new state law.

Sep. 24, 2012

In other news

• Council discussed an $856,745 contract to expand the Emergency Operations Center. Fire Chief Bill Van Helden told council members the expansion would take care of the fire department’s administrative needs for at least five to 10 years.
• Council considered changing the land-use classification of a parcel of land in the northwest that would allow the developers of a luxury RV resort to continue with their plans for a $35 million facility off Burnt Store Road.
• Council discussed the potential purchase of backhoes, excavators and other equipment for the utilities department to the tune of $380,287.


Cape Coral’s City Council discussed on Monday two ordinances that would limit the number of overtime hours and unused leave time that count toward the pensions of police and firefighters.

Mayor John Sullivan called it the first step toward fixing the city’s spiraling pension costs.

“Right now, the way it stands, going down the road, the pension’s could break the back of the city financially,” Sullivan said after Monday’s nonvoting meeting.

The ordinances, which would bring the city in line with a new state law, cap the amount of overtime that would count toward pensions at no more than 300 hours per year and eliminate the use of any leave time for pension calculations.

Employees will still get paid for those hours, but, if the ordinances pass, the hours will no longer factor into the amount police officers and firefighters receive in annual pension payouts once they retire.

Council will vote on the ordinances Monday.

Brendan Fonock, president of the firefighter’s union, said the changes won’t have a big financial impact on firefighters.

“Our guys just don’t get the many overtime hours,” Fonock said in an interview earlier this month.

And while the leave time restriction may have some affect, he said, it will vary with each member of the department.

He also noted the law could face a constitutional challenge at some point because legislators altered benefits of union members without first bargaining with the unions.

City spokeswoman Connie Barron said an analysis of the savings will start next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and will likely be complete in February.

Councilman Marty McClain said the ordinance would prevent employees from driving up compensation in their final years in order to draw bigger pensions.

“I’m sure there are cases where certain things were done to basically drive the pensions up a little bit,” McClain said in an interview earlier this month. “The temptation is way too great.”

Though one proposed ordinance deals with fire pensions and the other with police pensions, other city workers would see similar restrictions put in place once they agree to a new contract in the next round of negotiations.

Sullivan said the next step is for the city to negotiate with all the unions for concessions that would make pension costs more sustainable.

“I think it will be, or have to go to, a 401(k)-type, or some kind of hybrid between the two,” he said. “I think that’s definitely going to happen at some point in time.”

Finance director Vicki Bateman has also lent her support to a pension system that more closely mirrors corporate retirement plans.

Sullivan added it is in the best interests of the unions to help with reform in order to ensure the viability of the pensions, though he conceded the process would be difficult.

“What’ll probably happen is everyone will wind up dissatisfied and, usually, when you come to that kind of an agreement, it’s a fair agreement,” he said.

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