San Antonio's police and fire association representatives stood down Wednesday afternoon while members of a Task Force designed to study the city's growing 'legacy costs' explained the cushy health care benefits enjoyed by police and firefighters, benefits which are not granted to any other public safety employees in the state, 1200 WOAI news reports.


  Buddy Morris, a healthcare benefits expert who is a member of the task force, said the biggest problem is that police and firefighters pay nothing out of pocket for the healthcare benefits they receive.


  "In the private sector, it is $50 for an employee per month, and $565 for a family," Morris said.  "Uniformed, here in San Antonio, that cost is $0 for an employee, and $0 for a dependent."


  Morris said that situation is not conducive to holding health care costs down.


  "Because it's free, all of the uniformed employees dump all of their dependents into the program," he said.


  He said the 'standard conversation' which happens over dinner tables across the state in the fall, about which plan people should choose, and which plans offer the best value, don't take place among San Antonio public safety workers, who reach out and place as many dependents as they can on their health care plans.


  Task force members said such a deal is not available to any other public safety employees anywhere else in the state.


  Sam Dawson, a local businessman and another member of the task force, said when San Antonio began bargaining collectively with the police and fire associations in the mid 1970s, the cost of public safety workers as a total percentage of the city's general fund budget.  Today, that figure is 66.5% and rising, and he said unless action is taken, that will become 100% of the general fund budget in the coming years.


  "Without a doubt, we felt that the public safety budget will comprise 100% of the total general fund budget if we do not change directions," Dawson said.


  He offered one idea.


  "Health care benefits do not need to be a part of police and fire collective bargaining agreements," he said.  "No other major city in the country ties them together."


  It was an effort to pare down the scope of collective bargaining for teachers which led to near riots in the streets of Wisconsin several years ago.


  Indeed, while the San Antonio Police Officers Association has agreed to meet with city officials April 4, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association has not yet agreed to meet, according to one city official.


  City Council also blasted the associations for not speaking at Wednesday’s work session.  Representatives said they will make a presentation soon.  Unlike a similar session three weeks ago when off duty police and firefighters packed council chambers, no rank and file members were on hand for Wednesday's session.