By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH - In a unanimous vote, the Vero Beach City Council gave final approval to a three-year contract with the police union during the Oct. 16 meeting.
The contract was ratified by the police union earlier this month. It was the third attempt at an agreeable contract and the changes will save the city money, said city manager Jim O'Connor.
Jason Odom, legal representative for the city in the negotiations, said among the changes to the contract are pension contribution rates, paid holidays and the accumulation of vacation and sick pay.
The paid city holidays have been reduced from 11 to nine, removing Veteran's Day and Good Friday. Current employees will increase their pension contributions from 3 percent to 5.5 percent, but new hires will automatically have their pension contributions at 8 percent.
Starting October 2014, police will have to use their sick and vacation time during the year it was earned and it will not be available to roll over. Already accumulated days will not be touched.
One point of contention between the city and the union was the proposed demotion of three lieutenants, which would have a domino effect in the department and result in a total of nine demotions overall. The proposal was supported by the city manager as a cost-saving measure, but the union and public spoke out against it. During negotiations the idea was dropped.
Also during the Oct. 16 meeting, the city council voted 3-2 to approve exit and settlement agreements with wholesale power provider, Orlando Utilities Commission.
The vote allows negotiations to continue forward toward a sale of the electric utility. The agreements will only be executed and take effect if a sale is closed, legal counsel said.
The agreement states the city will pay about $54 million to extricate themselves from the current power agreement. Orlando Utilities Commission will also assume the natural gas contract the city currently has.
Despite concerns voiced by two members of the council, Jay Kramer and Dick Winger, transactional attorney John Igoe said the electric utility sale is still on track to close in January 2014.
One of the hurdles the attorneys are attempting to clear in negotiations is an agreement the city has with Florida Municipal Power Agengy, called the all requirements project, Mr. Igoe said.
The all requirements project is an agreement between 14 Florida cities that enables municipal utilities to be owners, not merely customers, of an efficient statewide power system, which can help keep power costs down.
Though the city doesn't use any power from the agreement and hasn't for several years, Mr. Winger is concerned the city will be liable should something befall other members of the project.
Some of the members in the project include Fort Pierce, Jacksonville Beach, Ocala, Key West and Bushnell.
Normally, the city would need to submit a three-year notice to exit the project, but Mr. Igoe said he was planning on requesting a waiver from the group to exit early and seemed confident getting the waiver would not hold up the negotiations process or cost the city more money.
For more information about upcoming city council meetings, visit www.covb.org.