Fact finder confirms police claims

Williston cops among lowest paid, report says

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Williston police officers are among the lowest paid in the area, according to a newly released fact finder’s report. Police union representatives hope Williston town officials will heed the advice contained in the report, and give officers the pay raise they have been seeking since negotiations began earlier this year.

Contract talks between the town and the union reached a standstill Aug. 9 after two meetings with a mediator. Union officials cited pay and health care benefits as the divisive issues. After another failed attempt at mediation, both sides agreed to hire a fact finder.

Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, an alternate steward for the union, received a copy of the 26-page report on Monday, and was pleased with fact finder Ira Lobel’s conclusions.

“The report essentially agreed that we are below the county average,” Chamberlain said. “The recommendation is that if salaries are brought in line with other departments, we should also pay a percentage of our health insurance. We’re in full agreement. This has been our position since day one.”

The report breaks down pay scales for various divisions within the department including officers, dispatchers and sergeants. Using comparable departments – Milton, Colchester and Essex – the report includes charts indicating that Williston’s starting, as well as pay for five- and ten-year veterans, ranks last across the board. Only Winooski had a lower starting pay for officers and dispatchers.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he had not had a chance to review the report as of Monday afternoon, and would not comment. “We are still in negotiations,” he said.

The negotiations have cost Williston taxpayers a pretty penny. The fact finder’s report alone took three weeks to produce, and cost $5,000, which was split between the town and the police union. The town also had to hire an attorney, which McGuire estimated cost about $4,000. McGuire also estimates he spent about 47 hours working on the issue himself, which, if McGuire were paid hourly for the work would translate to almost $1,600.

McGuire feels it is money and time well spent.

“If you don’t spend the money and time, little things can end up costing a lot of money,” McGuire said.

He cited shift differentials and uniform allowances as examples of items that are not as obvious as hourly wages, but which ultimately have an effect on taxpayers’ wallets.

“It is important to keep an eye on these things, and at the same time provide a competitive wage,” he added.

The Williston Police Officers Association represents police officers, sergeants and dispatchers. The union is a chapter of the Teamsters Local 597, which paid for the police half of the fact-finding report.

Chamberlain declined to release specific numbers from the report until union representatives have a chance to meet with town officials to discuss whether the town will honor the recommendations.

“Although the report doesn’t provide everything we are looking for, the union is willing to accept (the fact finder’s) recommendations, and believe they are a fair balance between what officers deserve and what taxpayers can afford to support,” Chamberlain said.

A meeting between town officials and union representatives to discuss the report is expected to take place in the next two weeks. Once an agreement is reached, a majority vote of approval from the police union, as well as the Williston Selectboard, are required before the police contract is finalized.