Police, fire supporters pack Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting

A Crestwood police car.

A Crestwood police car.

Representatives and supporters of Crestwood’s Police and Fire departments voiced their dissatisfaction to the Board of Aldermen last week regarding the amount of raises proposed by the city and a new merit pay plan.

Roughly 75 people jammed the city’s Aldermanic Chambers Nov. 14 to voice their support for police officers, represented by Teamsters Local 610, and firefighters, represented by International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665.

Many of the speakers contended city officials were not fulfilling the promises they made after voter approval of Proposition C, a 45-cent property-tax increase, and Proposition P, a countywide half-cent sales tax for police and public safety.

A representative of IAFF 2665 said that he and fellow firefighters and police responded when Mayor Gregg Roby called last February and asked for their help to obtain voter approval of Prop C and Prop P.

When voters approved those measures, they expected city officials to honor their pledge to improve the Fire and Police departments, IAFF 4th District Vice President Kurt Becker told the board.

While firefighters have a memorandum of understanding with the city that runs through Dec. 31, 2019, police officers voted Oct. 25 to reject the city’s proposed contract and cease negotiating after 14 months of talks.

Dan McLaughlin, an attorney representing Teamsters Local 610, told the board that police officers had voted 18-0 to reject the city’s proposed contract.

“… The main reason for that rejection was the wages that were proposed, but more importantly the basis by which raises will be calculated in the future in terms of a merit-based (pay) plan …,” he said.

Noting that Prop C and Prop P combined are projected to generate an additional $1.8 million in revenue for the city, McLaughlin later contended the city was offering a roughly $4,000 salary increase to individual police officers.

“To the bargaining unit, that’s $72,000, which is less than 4 percent of the money with no intended or no guaranteed raises for future years,” he said. “Not only are these proposed raises dramatically less than St. Louis County’s pay plan, the starting salary for an officer here is still drastically lower than your neighboring municipalities …”

McLaughlin also warned of high turnover.

“… This local, this group of employees, these officers that protect your city, that protect these citizens, they gave you a pretty fair pay proposal with a step increase. That pay proposal was significantly the same as St. Louis County. In the first year alone, it was about 10 percent of that $1.8 million. It was a $170,000 to $180,000 increase — that’s it — to remain current with that St. Louis County pay increase.

“Thereafter, we’re asking for 5 percent of that $1.8 million at the most. That’s not a lot to ask for the citizens of this district or this city. It’s not a lot to ask for the people that you want to continue working here. If you don’t, I can tell you you’re going to have a high turnover …”

Dion Olson, an officer with the city’s Police Department, expressed his concerns about police pay that is not competitive, causing high turnover in the department.

“… We’re still training officers at this time from the last great exodus of officers that left us with four people short, and I’ve just learned that another officer will be leaving us in a few days,” he said. “So again I find myself working for a department that cannot retain the quality, experienced officers it employs. A department that is not paying a competitive wage. A department that is struggling to maintain manpower standards due to the constant turnover of its personnel …”

Police work is unlike other professions “where you can just hire somebody, explain the job to them and let them go,” Olson said. “It takes years for an officer to be fully independent due to the multitude of our duties. In the last three years, we’ve lost over 127 years of combined experience just in the people who have quit — not retired — quit for other employment.

“We have to be able to trust our co-workers with life-and-death decisions — life and death. This affects us. It puts great stress on us. As much as we might like a new officer, it takes time, stress-filled time to know if we can truly trust them with our lives — our lives …”

Becker said that he supports the city’s police officers.

“… Mayor Roby, when I took a phone call from you in February very concerned about the passage of Prop C and Prop P, you asked for help. And that ask was a genuine one and a sincere one and it came with a certain degree of desperation because the idea that Prop C and Prop P wouldn’t pass spelled certain demise for the city of Crestwood. And I answered that call, and the men and women of the Fire Department and Police Department answered that call, and we came to the table and we spent thousands, literally thousands, of dollars to assist the city in passing Prop C and Prop P.

“We spent hundreds of man hours standing at every poll we could and every single time we went to those polls and went to those voters, we assured them that this was going to stabilize the Fire Department. It was going to stabilize the Police Department. The voters gave the city over $1.8 million in Prop C and Prop P, and they gave that money to make sure that the Fire Department and the Police Department are paid competitively and paid in keeping with their peers.”

But he said Crestwood’s firefighter pay “is well within the bottom quartile of fire departments in St. Louis County,” while police pay is in a similar situation. Becker also noted that the city’s proposed 2018 budget projects a general fund surplus that exceeds the city’s policy of having a minimum unrestricted reserve of 45 percent in the general fund.

“When those voters gave you that money to improve these … departments, they expected you to honor that pledge. They didn’t expect you to use that money to create a balance in your slush fund, your general fund reserve, in excess of $1.36 million over your policy limit …”

Waving a thick sheaf of papers, Becker said, “What I have here in my hand are the bills from (city legal counsel) Lashly (&) Baer since 2016 when you guys have been negotiating the contract with your police officers — tens of thousands in legal fees that you guys are spending to fight your police officers.

“This is not what the voters gave you $1.8 million a year for with Prop P and Prop C. They gave you this money not to fight your police officers, but to support them, to go to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair and honest contract with them …”

He also accused the city of not bargaining in good faith and urged aldermen “to advise your staff to go back to the bargaining table immediately with your police officers …”