JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's new public safety contract with the firefighter and police unions could cost the city an additional $2.8 million if it's approved by the City Council next week.
About $100,000 of that increase stems from a policy change that would allow more Jacksonville police officers living outside Duval County to take their work vehicles home.
Right now, officers who live 10 miles or less from the Duval County border can take their patrol cars home.
But citing recruitment and retention efforts, the police union successfully negotiated a change to that policy that would allow officers living in St. Johns, Clay, Baker and Nassau counties to drive their police cars home.
When the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office originally started its take-home car policy, it was sold as a potential crime deterrent in Jacksonville, saying if people saw police cars parked regularly in a city neighborhood, it might prevent crime.
“That was one of the original intents. You have to look at this another way. What benefit does it provide to the city, for the community as a whole? Recruitment and (retaining officers) that is a big thing,” said Steve Zona, the president of the Jacksonville chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Anytime a police officer walks out the door [quits], you’re talking about a $100,000 loss or more. Not only is it going to help retain these police officers who live in these other counties and drive their cars home, you look at it as a recruitment issue.”
Officers who take home cars pay $50 every pay period for the privilege and that will hold true under the new guidelines.
Health benefits for police officers and firefighters will also change if the City Council approves the new public safety contract. Instead of being under the city health insurance plan, the unions will be able to go with their own providers and save officers and firefighters more money.
“We felt like with the knowledge we are basically a healthier group, that we can go out and do better for our members as it relates to premiums and kind of be on the cutting edge of new ideas,” said Randy Wise, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.
The added $2.8 million price tag for the contract does not include the cost of a new separate health care plan.
By law, if the City Council chooses not to approve the new contract as it is, the city and unions would have to go back to the bargaining table and start the process over.