FORT WAYNE – Fort Wayne City Council members gave police officers a raise Tuesday but used the occasion to quiz the police chief about a rash of robberies at apartment complexes and question whether the city should even have unions.
The council voted 8-0 to approve a one-year extension to the city’s contract with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers on the force. All the terms of the contract remain the same as the previous pact except officers get the 2 percent raise the council gave city employees as part of the 2013 budget. Councilman Marty Bender, R-at large, is a deputy police chief and abstained on the vote.
Council President Tom Didier, R-3rd, asked Police Chief Rusty York to take a moment after the discussion of the contract to talk about the string of 12 robberies at apartment complexes that appear to be linked, including one Tuesday morning in which a woman who had a large kitchen knife on hand for protection was attacked and stabbed with it.
York said there have actually been 36 total robberies at apartment complexes since Jan. 1, but police have identified a group of serial criminals they are focusing their investigation on.
One councilman used the discussion of the contract to raise the question of the future of city unions.
Tom Smith, R-1st, said council members and administration officials for months have been discussing how to save money, especially because the city is expecting a major budget shortfall for 2014.
Collective bargaining isn’t one of the things we’re looking at, yet 75 percent of our employees are unionized, Smith said. Before raising taxes, I think we should take a look at the collective bargaining ordinance. I think the unions need to be part of our discussion as well, to find out what they can do to help.
The idea brought a swift rebuttal from Glynn Hines, D-6th.
I don’t think cutting funds for public safety would be at the top of my list, Hines said. Rather, I’d want to look at how can we best provide public safety, even if it means increasing expenditures.
Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he doesn’t see unions as just an extra expense.
Some of us look at it in a different way, because we see the hard-earned rights they and others worked so hard for over the years, he said.
The council approved a change to its streets and sidewalks ordinance to give brick alleys the same protection the city gave brick streets in 2011. That change upgraded existing city policy into law, requiring the city to repair brick streets with bricks – preventing asphalt or concrete patching. Tuesday’s change, which could get final approval next week, extends that requirement to brick alleys.