Sheriff eyes problems after impasse on pension reform

Collective bargaining over retirement benefits at standstill

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sheriff John Rutherford says he sees problems ahead for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office if the city and the police union continue a standoff.

The city declared an impasse Monday, saying president of the Fraternal Order of Police refuses to engage in collective bargaining over retirement benefits. The two sides will need a mediator to help come to terms with pension problems.

Rutherford said pension and benefit reform will mean a less experienced police force.

Police layoffs and salary cuts are already shaping his department, and now pension reform has been added to the mix. Rutherford said he has nothing to do with the negotiations and says the mayor has not consulted with him. But he is worried about what it's doing to his department.

"My concern is we have to have a salary and benefits package that allows me to recruit the most qualified candidates out there," Rutherford said.

That means the sheriff believes better-trained officers and recruits will be going to other cities and avoiding Jacksonville. And worse, he says those who will come to the River City will leave. Rutherford said it all has to do with benefits negotiated with the city.

"It needs to be sufficient that we can compete with other law enforcement agencies, or we will be what they call a 'breeder agency,'" he said. "We will train them, we will get them on, and they will go off to other agencies. And I do not want to become a breeder agency."

I took the sheriff's concerns to the police union and asked what do they think. will they see a requirement problem? Well the

FOP President Nelson Cuba said the sheriff's concerns are already becoming a reality.

"People are retiring because they are scared of what is happening and people are leaving," Cuba said. "I know of at least nine or 10 officers that have already applied in other agencies. It's a process that takes seven or eight months to get through, but they are looking at leaving."

The latest impasse means any decision on pension reform will be delayed, and if it goes into next year, the mayor's office says the city will be out millions of more dollars and the sheriff believes out more officers.

"I am going to have a problem not only recruiting, but I am going to have a problem maintaining people," Rutherford said.

The mayor's office said this latest impasse is because the union refuses to negotiate pensions. The union says the city is taking to the wrong agency. But the sheriff says something has to happen to bring this all together, because he says the more the the city cuts police staff, the worse off Jacksonville will be when it comes to fighting crime.

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