It was one of the most contentious items in last year’s Evansville city budget, and it was brought back to life Monday in Council chambers.
First responders keep fighting for higher wages, as Police and Fire leaders say hiked health care costs, passed by the city last year, is sucking their wallets dry. They say the decision blindsided them and now six months later they’re still looking for a solution.
Police and Fire union presidents united in front of council, calling out Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s administration for failing to negotiate “in good faith.”
Winnecke said last year the city couldn’t afford to keep paying as much as $25 million per year on employee health care, so council passed higher premium and deductible rates under protest from the unions.
They believe higher wages should accompany higher health care costs to offset each other, but the two sides still seem far apart.
“I wish I could say it’s going to be a great outcome for both sides,” Professional Firefighters Local 357 President, Larry Zuber says, “I honestly don’t see the city’s willingness to work with their public safety officials.”
Fraternal Order of Police President, Chuck Knoll told council the Mayor has refused to negotiate; only delivering a “take it or leave it” offer.
Deputy Mayor, Steve Schaefer, in attendance at Monday’s meeting, denies that allegation.
“If you know Mayor Winnecke, he’s never not willing to sit down and talk,” Schaefer says, “He put some options on the table, absolutely, but I think there’s a certain dollar figure the city simply can’t sustain.”
Neither side could say when they believe a resolution could come.
Schaefer says the city is already working on next year’s budget.