Prior to his election as the mayor of Racine, Cory Mason was widely regarded as a staunch champion for public services and the dedicated employees that provide them. Mason campaigned on that reputation, highlighting his past work as a union organizer and member of the state Legislature, and it undoubtedly contributed to his election.
For that reason, among others, it is both disappointing and bewildering to see Mayor Mason propose harsh cuts to the health insurance benefits of the men and women that enable this city to meet the service needs and demands of the community. Not only does the mayor’s misguided plan represent a glaring contradiction to the principles he evoked prior to becoming the city’s chief executive, it will cause significant long-term harm to Racine and its ability to serve its citizens if approved by the Common Council next week.
The employees that serve this city are no strangers to the economic challenges facing our community. We confront them every day, and we have all worked to do more with less — not only in terms of the money used to fund the services that we provide, but the pay and benefits that we rely upon to support our loved ones as well.
The police department, for example, suffers from a growing inability to retain officers and attract qualified applicants. For the last few years, we have seen more and more officers leave to work in other cities with stable pay and benefits, and where the agency’s buildings and squad cars aren’t falling apart. The city’s hiring has not been able to keep pace with this exodus, and at present, our agency’s patrol division is down more than 20 officers. This shortage impacts our officers’ response times, our capacity to engage in proactive community policing, and our ability to count on backup in the event that we make an urgent call for help.
For the last several years, city employees have had to swallow tremendous cuts to their pay and benefits. In the police department, officers haven’t had an increase in their take-home pay in nearly 10 years.
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Under the health insurance plan proposed by the mayor, just the deductible alone under a family plan will cost city employees nearly $4,000 more than what is paid today. That includes the amount of money the city contemplates making available to city employees through health savings accounts, but does not include the mayor’s plan to impose additional increases in our costs for copays and coinsurance.
Many police officers have expressed that they are having an increasingly difficult time justifying the risks that we assume for the benefit of a city that makes it more difficult — and costly — to meet our personal health care needs and those of our families. Officers are wondering out loud how to square the thoughtful pro-worker reputation that helped elect the mayor with his short-sighted punitive actions now that he is in the job. Even more troubling is that officers are struggling to reconcile the appreciation for their public service that he just recently expressed at the funeral of one of our own with a proposal that is certain to impair our ability to keep Racine safe and support our families at the same time.
Neither the mayor nor the Common Council is to blame for the financial difficulties facing Racine, which largely stem from factors outside of their control. But the city’s employees aren’t responsible either, and Racine’s budget shouldn’t be balanced on our backs — especially considering how severely it will impact them and the critically important services that they provide.
Todd Hoover is the president of the Racine Police Association.