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May 30. 2013 10:09PM

Claremont fact finder's report rejected

CLAREMONT — The City Council has rejected a fact finder's report aimed at ending a five-year impasse with the police and department of public works unions, which centers around health care benefits and raises.

Neither union has had a contract with the city since both ran out in 2008.

Claremont Mayor James Neilsen IV said Thursday that in an effort to bring negotiations to a close, a fact finder's report was commissioned.

However, on Wednesday night, the City Council voted 7-1 to reject the report because councilors didn't agree with the health insurance concessions that were recommended.

Neilson said the report also failed to address the question of raises, other than to say that if the health care issue was resolved raises could be easily negotiated because both unions and the city were close, he said.

The city had proposed a lower-tier plan as well as the employee contribution starting at 5 percent in the first year and up to 10 percent in the third year, or zero percent in the first year and 10 percent in the following years, Neilson said.

Currently these union employees are not paying any contribution and have access to several plans including a higher-tier plan that would cost the city in fines in 2018 when "Obamacare" starts fining what are considered "Cadillac" plans, he said.

"I just know that the higher-tier program that the city has right now is considered a Cadillac plan," Neilson said.

The fact finding report suggested employee contributions start at 1.1 percent because there have been no raises in the past five years and a higher contribution would make too much of an impact on the employees' salaries.

But, Neilson said, most public employees in other communities are already paying 10 percent contributions and people in the private sector often pay more.

"There isn't a lot of sympathy for these unions that have been paying zero percent co-pay with 100 percent coverage," Neilson said.

There is also no plan to phase out the higher-tier "Cadillac" plan.

This negotiation has a far reaching impact on the city budget since the other unions expect comparable contracts. The fire department has not had a contract since 2008 either and the clerical union contract will soon be up for negotiations, he said.

Without a contract, with these unions city costs are out of control on retirement and health care contributions, which if left untouched would lead to up to 20 city employee layoffs in the next three years, Neilsen said.

If the city were to accept the fact finders proposal costs would still be out of control and would lead to up to 13 city layoffs, he said.

The cost to the city if the report findings are adopted would be close to $1.5 million over the next three years, equaling a $1.70 increase in the tax rate, he said.

"We already have residents that say please don't raise our taxes anymore," Neilson said.

He added he wants to finalize contracts soon because employees are already leaving for higher pay and better jobs elsewhere.

Police Chief Alexander Scott said employee retention is an ongoing concern for his department.

He added that the fact finding report that was compiled using information about surrounding communities is still a valuable tool that can be used at the negotiating table.

"It creates value in that it can get people back to the table" to discuss "the more narrowly defined range in which to finalize negotiations," Scott said. "If read closely and with understanding of the background it gives both sides information that should allow for meaningful negotiations that could hopefully result in a resolution in a fairly short time."


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