Tulsa Police Win Arbitration Again : City Still Has Budget Shortfall

The Tulsa Police win arbitration for another raise in pay again. After the City wanted to agree to an amount that was 3% less than what the FOP wanted to get and cut back on the take-home patrol cars. Saving approx. $250,000.00 in fuel alone according to the Feb. 19th Tulsa World.

It is a widely known political “third rail” to talk about police not receiving pay increases. Every politician or public figure that comes out and says; “We simply can’t afford another raise for Police.” is instantly characterized as anti-police and pro-crime. If the subject were that simple, there would never be a reason to arbitrate.

A Mayor would simply comply with every demand for a raise that the benevolent FOP offered. There would not be a need for consideration of other worker’s pay rates or even tax revenues vs. spending. In fact, the budget for the police would just be a simple blank check written for whatever amount the Chief of Police demanded each fiscal year.

Of course, I am being sarcastic. The City Budget process is something I am intimately familiar with, as I was one of the many people who helped produce it for several years. As a former regular employee of the City, I had first hand observations of what happened in a budget shortfall when the FOP demanded more money.

The plain truth, as I saw it, was their raises came out of the checks from the rest of the administrators through out the City who were unfortunate enough not to have union representation. For years, I witnessed the chronic stress related diseases of, heart disease; diabetes; and chronic fatigue that happened to regular City workers who worked the full time job for the City and then had to turn around to work another 20 to 30 hrs at another job, just to put food on the table. In fact, I knew of at least two or three workers per quarter that were hospitalized or died from illness on the job; which was a site more than the police was. All of this, along with riding a bus for two hours each day; making two or more transfers; because they either could not afford a car or could not afford the gas.

Most people would be shocked to find out there are many City workers who are on welfare or food stamps or some other form of assistance along with the income mentioned previously.

The fallacy that more money spent on police and more cops in the academy equal more cops on the street and safer streets is simply shortsighted. As an example, the only time I have been a victim of crime, a County Sheriff’s car was parked three houses away! For every officer on the beat, there are two to three more in court, doing paperwork (because they had to cut down on administrative staff to fund the last pay raise), or working special events (for which they get extra pay). The more money we pour into the Police Department, the more ways they find to spend it.

One prime example that I was told about by a fellow co-worker; was the laptops in patrol cars fiasco. A major computer company offered an all-inclusive, out of the box, solution that was being used in other larger cities, but the Police rejected it opting to fund their own project. Several iterations, and three to four times the original estimate later; only some patrol cars had laptops. When I tried to track the total spending, I found the amounts seemed less, because of transfers of funds and splitting up cost between departments that helped the development, but the money was spent anyway. Of course, this was some time ago, and I haven’t seen how far they have gotten in the last few years, but it still begs the question, is more money always the answer?

Another big fallacy of the FOP negotiations is that the proposals I read always talked about “comparable cities”, but never mentioned publicly which cities are “comparable.” Some of the cities on the lists were, OKC, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and Chicago. Ask yourself, is Tulsa a city of roughly 352,000 people (including surrounding areas) comparable in tax-base to Denver or Kansas City who hold MILLIONS of people? Let’s call this what it is, and say their eyes are too big for our wallets.

Also, in past years, the reports of the Police Department getting a pay decrease, have been misrepresented in many of the reports I heard. During the last years of the Savage administration there were reports of pay decreases, but what was not said was that the decrease were decreases in the normal and agreed to annual raises. That’s right, the decrease was a decrease in a raise!

The City Budget works like this; if you do not spend all the money you ask for in one year, you are apt to get less the next year. This means there is no incentive to do things on time or on budget. In fact, it lends itself to the tendency to over-estimate costs simply to make sure the money always be available.

To put it plainly, I am not against Police Officers who have a tough job to do. I am not against them getting fair pay. We need to pay the officers what others in our same tax-base have. However, we also need to be mindful of the current economic climate.

We also need to see that there has been almost no recorded “impartial” arbitration that hasn’t sided with the FOP. Look for an example of when the arbiter said, “No, the City is being reasonable and the FOP needs to back down” and you’ll be hard pressed to find one for Tulsa in recent history or any other city for that matter.

The City has an obligation to the public to keep them safe, and the City has an obligation to pay their employees to assist those who are the front line defenders. However, when the unions for the Police, Fire, and Public Works force the City to lay off regular workers or scale back the pay that is already 30% less than the same private sector job and the scale backs are made to give others a level of pay well over 70% (an average over $60,000.00 per year according to the Feb. 20th Tulsa World) of their fellow City employees; then unions have stepped over the bounds.

For every first responder, or safety person, there has to be administration in place to make it work smoothly. For every community benefit of water, sewer, streets, etc.; there has to be someone to fund the job, pay the taxes, and track the payroll. For every employee the public sees, there are more behind the scenes supporting him or her.

It might not be politically correct, or popular, but I think it is time to say, enough is enough. It is time to say, that in hard-times all City workers need to share the burden.

Disclaimer:
In case you’re feeling litigious all of these accounts except those specifically referenced are from my memories of working at City Hall, and are subject to human imperfection. These are my thoughts and opinions, but in no way reflect documented facts, as I am no longer privy to the sources.

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