With city police positions potentially on the chopping block in next year's budget, an impassioned Lt. Steve Helm, who is president of the city police union, defended the union's position, taking aim at Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's suggestions they concede on health care and pension benefits.
"We don't generate revenue," Helm said, as Campana threatened to lay off city employees across the board, including police.
"If people want police protection that comes from taxes," Helm said.
Campana and others in his administration have placed most of the reason for the city's $1.5 million deficit going into next year on union non-concession, particularly that of the police and fire unions, regarding their health care and pension plans.
Campana described the police and fire departments' insurance and pensions as out of balance with those of the private sector and other unions representing City Hall Streets and Parks Department and River Valley Transit employees. He claims no other unions in the city receive lifetime health care for their retirees or their spouses - as police and fire unionized employees do.
Helm, meanwhile, discussed the status of contract negotiations and indicated it is heading toward arbitration.
The city can spend money on Ballard Spahr, a law firm the city retained, according to Helm. The police contract ends Dec. 31.
"We feel OK going into arbitration because it will be with a neutral person," Helm said. "We were close (in this round of talks earlier this year), but he (Campana) pulled the deal off the table."
Police contribute to their pensions, and the fund is sound, he said.
"We're out here each day and night, every weekend and on holidays getting assaulted and injured," Helm said.
To be a police officer requires an individual with specialized training, schooling and an "impeccable background," he said. Police candidates need to take a Civil Service test and, if selected, go through a year of "strict scrutiny" before tenure.
Helm said he would not allow fellow police, such as Benjamin Laurenson, who has served tours in Iraq, to be part of the mayor's efforts to balance the budget.
"We didn't come to him (Campana) in this round with unrealistic approaches and we're not going to hand back our health care and pensions," Helm said.
Helm said questions should be asked why Campana withdrew the economic development director proposal from the table this summer. That was estimated to have a budget of up to $90,000 a year.
"He's not going to balance the budget on our backs," Helm said. "We're not going to roll over and play dead."