Unresolved labor talks complicate Auburn budget plans

Council holds closed session to crunch numbers, strategize
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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With budget time approaching, negotiations with six labor groups starting and talks with the Auburn Police Officers Association still ongoing after a year, the Auburn City Council held a special closed session this week to go over numbers and strategy.

Council met with City Manager Bob Richardson and Administrative Services Director Andy Heath for two hours on Monday, analyzing issues that factor into the labor negotiations. No action was taken, Mayor Kevin Hanley said.

The council called the meeting to get more information than can be obtained in the normal 30-minute closed session prior to regular council meetings, Hanley said.

Making decisions on labor contracts requires analysis of topics such as revenue estimates for the next three years, efforts to rebuild the city’s reserves, increasing costs of pensions and how to retain “top notch” employees, he said.

“We need a lot of data, and what the council is very strong on is we don’t want to hurry and make the wrong decision, because we’re talking about a lot of money,” Hanley said.

The city will spend an estimated $7,542,000 on all employment-related costs for the current fiscal year. Police personnel costs total $3,075,433 and about 45 percent of that covers APOA employees, which excludes managerial positions.

The APOA’s memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the city expired June 30, 2012, so the groups are still operating under the previously agreed upon contract. Whether the new MOU would have retroactive implications is subject to negotiations, Heath said.

There is no set deadline for the city and APOA to adopt a new MOU, Richardson said. It is a moving target for the city to calculate into its budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year.

“From my perspective, you just have to go with the status quo, but again because there are things that are still being negotiated, it’s real difficult,” Heath said of the challenges of crafting a budget with unresolved labor talks. “It makes it difficult.”

Hanley also said protracted negotiations can complicate matters during budget season, considering the length of the contract and whether certain aspects can be “retroactive.”

The proposed budget for 2013-14 will go before City Council during its May 20 meeting for initial review, and it is slated to come back for final ratification on June 24, Richardson said.

He said it is “not uncommon” for cities to be in this situation.

“The City Council has to look at the revenue estimates for the coming year, weigh the needs of the different labor groups with the needs and demands of different projects and funding requests,” Richardson said, “and should they be unsuccessful in reaching agreement prior to the adoption of the budget, they simply continue on with negotiations until they are able to reach an agreement.”

The city’s six other labor groups have contracts set to expire June 30, including the Auburn Firefighters Association and the Auburn Police Sergeants Association. Hanley said the city has already had initial talks with those two groups.

He said it is “unfortunate” negotiations with the APOA have been ongoing for “a long time.”

APOA President Stan Hamelin did not return a message seeking comment.

“We try to come to a conclusion with the labor unions as soon as we can,” Hanley said. “We try to meet as often as we can and engage the labor unions and try to get the contracts approved, the MOUs, and be able to concentrate on other city services and other issues.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews