January 9, 2005

Councilman seeks pay hike for cops


A key player in the upcoming city budget negotiations has made a pitch for a higher pay increase for city police officers, but he sidestepped questions about the cost, which could be $1 billion--or $3 billion if extended to all uniformed workers.

City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), the chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, told an arbitration panel on Dec. 20 that the city needed a strong police force to protect against terrorism, and police cannot do that without "a competitive wage."

He said the salaries of city police officers should be in line with those of police in surrounding suburbs and the Port Authority police.

In an interview Friday, Weprin said he was not interfering with the mayor's exclusive authority to negotiate with city unions. Nor, he said, did he think that allocating more money for wages would reduce the amount available for libraries, cultural institutions and other needs that the council normally seeks in budget negotiations.

"Clearly, the mayor has said we are not in a crisis, because we can find the money for a rebate again," Weprin said Friday--a reference to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent suggestion that homeowners might get a $400 rebate on their real estates taxes this summer for the second year in a row.

Weprin said the mayor always puts an unrealistic estimate in the budget for wage increases. "We just did a $800 million budget mod," he said, explaining that spending projections were upgraded in the middle of the fiscal year because of an increase in tax revenues.

Bloomberg was scheduled to release his preliminary budget later this month, which will set in motion a budget process with the City Council that should end in an agreement before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

The City Council is usually represented in those negotiations by the council speaker and the chairman of the Finance Committee.

Under questioning from a city attorney, Weprin said generally speaking city workers were underpaid, but he said he was only testifying about the PBA because, "I can only take one situation at a time."

Officials in the Bloomberg administration said Weprin was the only elected official to testify for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, although a state senator did testify in an earlier round of bargaining years ago.

Weprin did not challenge the city's assertion that it would take a 39.7 percent raise to bring the city PBA into pay parity with Port Authority police, and that every percentage point increase for the PBA would cost the city $26 million.

When told that parity with Port Authority would cost $1 billion, Weprin replied that the figure "sounds high." And if the PBA got that increase and it set the pattern for all city workers, it would cost $3 billion, the city attorney said. "It sounds a little high also," Weprin replied.

Testimony before the PBA arbitration panel was expected to finish this week and each side will have 30 days to submit final written arguments. A decision should be handed down by mid-March and it was expected to set the pattern for firefighters and other uniformed workers.