ST. LOUIS, MO – The Board of Police Commissioners voted Monday to endorse Mayor Francis Slay’s proposal to spare 30 officer positions from attrition with money saved if the Board of Aldermen passes his firefighter pension reform plan.
Commissioner Bettye Battle-Turner initially balked at the manpower idea. “What if the BOA doesn’t pass it? I don’t want to give anyone false hope,” she said.
Slay said he was following a plan the city’s aldermanic Ways and Means Committee approved May 30.
“It’s about choices, and people need to know that we’ll use the money we save to add police officers to the department,” the mayor said.
The mayor has been at odds with the firefighters union over his proposal to increase their pension contributions and reduce benefits, especially for new hires, from a retirement fund he says is growing too fast to be sustained.
Earlier this year, Police Chief Dan Isom announced plans to let staffing fall by about 100 officers, to keep spending in line with the allocation from the city.
Sgt. David Bonenberger, president of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, is not pleased with Slay’s strategy.
“It’s not fair to put officers back on the street on the backs of the firefighters’ pensions,” Bonenberger said. “Isn’t it kind of a back-handed threat, that if we don’t pass this bill, we’ll have to lose policemen? He’s creating dissension among the first responders in the city.”
Alderman Antonio French also criticized Slay’s proposal, complaining that it isn’t right to link officer positions with firefighter pension changes when the city’s contribution to pensions for police are rising faster than for firefighters.
City Budget Director Paul Payne said police pensions will cost the city nearly $32 million in the coming fiscal year, a 35 percent increase over this year. Fire pensions will cost $29 million, a 20 percent increase. However, Payne noted, firefighter retirement costs represent 80 percent of the department’s payroll, while police pensions costs are 60 percent of payroll.
“I don’t think anybody would say fire is the only problem,” Payne said. “But it shot up the earliest and is the most dramatic.”
Also Monday, the Police Board backed a request by Slay to restore pay increases — frozen for years —to officers of the rank and sergeant and above. Slay praised Isom for working to find $150,000 to do it. Isom told a reporter he had no specific information on what was cut to free that money.
Slay’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, gave kudos to the Police Officers’ Association for pushing to fund the increases. Isom had announced that the attrition would include some command positions; the association asked city leaders to use money saved from that to fund raises for other supervisors.