Boise fire, police raises on the table

The mayor suggests dipping into savings from this fiscal year to cover next year's rise in public safety costs.

sberg@idahostatesman.com sberg@idahostatesman.comJune 25, 2013 

  • How a proposal becomes a budget

    Here's Boise's schedule for setting the fiscal year 2014-2015 budget:

    • Tuesday (8:30 a.m.) and Wednesday (8:45 a.m.): City Council budget workshop

    • July 16: Fee increases and budget public hearing

    • July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 20: Three readings of the ordinance to adopt the 2014-2015 budget

Last year, Boise's police and fire department unions forfeited their contractually prescribed salary increase.

City officials say it was a good-faith gesture that helped Boise pay its bills without compromising other areas, such as parks and libraries.

This year, with the unions' contracts set to expire Oct. 1, Mayor David Bieter has proposed restoring those raises. Doing so will increase the police and fire budgets, which account for more than half of Boise's general fund spending, by more than the 2.75 percent Bieter proposes for the rest of the departments.

Bigger paychecks and benefits for all 1,700 city employees are the biggest part - 84 percent - of Bieter's proposal for next year's budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

As long as they keep their spending within the prescribed increase, department heads will have autonomy - within City Council oversight - to decide where to spend, Bieter's staff said.

Long-term, the mayor wants to keep police and fire spending growth in line with the rest of the city's departments. That will require cuts somewhere, sometime.

For next budget year though, Bieter proposes allowing the city's two biggest costs to grow by about 4.4 percent. Part of the extra money would pay for 11 police positions that had been financed by an expiring federal grant.

Bieter's staff said his proposal isn't a line in the sand. Instead, it's a starting point for negotiations with the unions. It buys time to examine the way the police and fire departments spend money and to look for ways to trim those expenses.

"These are our two most core, fundamental municipal services, and they get really good marks in the citizen survey, and crime has continued to go down," said Jade Riley, Bieter's chief of staff. "So we've done really well. It's just service level equals cost, and we need to have this discussion of the whole of that with the unions and the community."

That may mean negotiations between the city and unions extend past the end of the current contract. If that's the case, the departments would continue to operate under the terms of the last agreement.

Reining in police and fire spending may mean police officers and firefighters get smaller raises in coming years.

"The mayor thinks that we must look at all possible efficiency measures - including salaries," Bieter spokesman Adam Park said in an email. "But he doesn't think it would be fair or prudent to presume at the beginning of this process that all of the efficiencies must come out of employee salary increases alone, particularly in light of the fact that those employees gave up their 2.5-percent base increase just last year."

Drawn-out or contentious negotiations aren't necessary, said Jim Walker, secretary treasurer of the firefighters union and a personal friend of Bieter's. He said the union is open to a one-year extension of the current contract.

There's a limit to the union's wiggle room, Walker said. In recent years, to help contain costs, the fire department has kept open positions unfilled for longer than the contract required.

But now, those cost-cutting measures are conflicting with minimum staffing levels for fire response. In some cases, Walker said, the department is meeting staffing needs by paying overtime.

Reducing manpower or compromising maintenance or quality of equipment isn't an option, Walker said.

"One thing that we will never back down on is something that would affect the safety of our members," he said. "The majority of firefighter fatalities that occur in house fires occur because there weren't enough personnel on scene."

Sven Berg: 377-6275

Last year, Boise's police and fire department unions forfeited their contractually prescribed salary increase.

City officials say it was a good-faith gesture that helped Boise pay its bills without compromising other areas, such as parks and libraries.

This year, with the unions' contracts set to expire Oct. 1, Mayor David Bieter has proposed restoring those raises. Doing so will increase the police and fire budgets, which account for more than half of Boise's general fund spending, by more than the 2.75 percent Bieter proposes for the rest of the departments.

Bigger paychecks and benefits for all 1,700 city employees are the biggest part - 84 percent - of Bieter's proposal for next year's budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

As long as they keep their spending within the prescribed increase, department heads will have autonomy - within City Council oversight - to decide where to spend, Bieter's staff said.

In the long term, the mayor wants to keep police and fire spending growth in line with the rest of the city's departments. That will require cuts somewhere, sometime.

For the next budget year though, Bieter proposes allowing the city's two biggest costs to grow by about 4.4 percent. Part of the extra money would pay for 11 police positions that had been financed by an expiring federal grant.

Bieter's staff said his proposal isn't a line in the sand. Instead, it's a starting point for negotiations with the unions. It buys time to examine the way the police and fire departments spend money and to look for ways to trim those expenses.

"These are our two most core, fundamental municipal services, and they get really good marks in the citizen survey, and crime has continued to go down," said Jade Riley, Bieter's chief of staff. "So we've done really well. It's just service level equals cost, and we need to have this discussion of the whole of that with the unions and the community."

That may mean negotiations between the city and unions extend past the end of the current contract. If that's the case, the departments would continue to operate under the terms of the last agreement.

Reining in police and fire spending may mean police officers and firefighters get smaller raises in coming years.

"The mayor thinks that we must look at all possible efficiency measures - including salaries," Bieter spokesman Adam Park said in an email. "But he doesn't think it would be fair or prudent to presume at the beginning of this process that all of the efficiencies must come out of employee salary increases alone, particularly in light of the fact that those employees gave up their 2.5-percent base increase just last year."

Drawn-out or contentious negotiations aren't necessary, said Jim Walker, secretary treasurer of the firefighters union and a personal friend of Bieter's. He said the union is open to a one-year extension of the current contract.

There's a limit to the union's wiggle room, Walker said. In recent years, to help contain costs, the fire department has kept open positions unfilled for longer than the contract required.

But now, those cost-cutting measures are conflicting with minimum staffing levels for fire response. In some cases, Walker said, the department is meeting staffing needs by paying overtime.

"One thing that we will never back down on is something that would affect the safety of our members," he said. "The majority of firefighter fatalities that occur in house fires occur because there weren't enough personnel on scene."

Sven Berg: 377-6275

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service