Naples officials, police union reach tentative agreement on new contract

City of Naples officials and the Naples police union reached a tentative agreement Thursday to offer 2 percent raises next year to all but top wage earners and a chance for officers to earn benefits under the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.

If the three-year agreement is ratified by union members and then approved by City Council, the DROP program would begin April 1, and the raises would go in effect Oct. 2012.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Seth Finman, who leads the police supervisors’ bargaining unit.

The city would retain its longest serving, most trained employees who might otherwise leave to gain the DROP benefit elsewhere, Finman said. The Florida Retirement System Pension Plan’s DROP benefit is offered by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, leading some city officers to leave Naples to pursue other jobs, officials said.

DROP would allow officers to simultaneously earn a salary and accumulate monthly retirement benefits for up to five years.

Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke said a recent closed executive session among council regarding a previous proposal, which included DROP and 2 percent raises for employees earning less than $60,000 annually, yielded a close 4-3 vote.

Police union officials then bargained Thursday for raises to be given Oct. 1, 2012, to officers earning less than $70,000 annually and supervisors who earn less than $80,000 annually. Top earners would be given a one-time 2 percent bonus under the agreement.

The opposition among council members was primarily to the DROP plan.

“From a policy perspective, we give police officers DROP, then firefighters are going to get it, then everybody is going to get it,” Reinke said of the concern voiced by opponents.

Reinke said he suggested council offer DROP, but the tentative agreement reached Thursday isn’t a sure thing. If its ratified by the union, Council could vote on it at an Oct. 5 meeting.

“We don’t have a whole lot of room to move because the people who support it may say no,” Reinke said, adding it would just take one council member to change their mind.

Councilman Doug Finlay wasn’t an advocate of offering DROP.

“Once a DROP is accepted into the city, it will likely never go away and only expand, both in coverage and benefits,” Finlay wrote in an email.

Union president Robert Young said his goal was to get as much money and benefits back to the officers following the agreement reached in 2010 that led to a retroactive 6 percent pay cut.

“We’ve seen wages and benefits stripped from police departments throughout the country,” Young said, “so even though we took a few steps back a couple years ago, I think, in the long run, it proved to be a benefit.”

DROP is not currently on the table for Naples firefighters, who continue to negotiate their contract with the city, said Adam Nadelman, president of the city’s firefighters’ union. If the city came back and offered fire officials’ a chance to participate in DROP, he said he didn’t know if the union would accept the offer.

“It would really depend what the total package was,” Nadelman said.

Police force members took some losses in their pension benefits under the tentative agreement. Pension benefits would be frozen at the current 3.63 percent multiplier effective March 31 and go to 3 percent effective April 1. Officers would also contribute about $40 more per month to their health benefits.

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