Police, town ink three-year contract11/6/08

Pay will rise by at least 3 percent

Nov. 3, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston police have agreed to a new contract that boosts pay by 3 percent or more annually while maintaining current benefits.

On Monday night, the Selectboard unanimously approved the three-year agreement with the 12 officers and two dispatchers who belong to Teamsters Local 597, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. Benefits remain largely unchanged, with officers continuing to pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance.

Officers and dispatchers receive an across-the-board 3 percent pay increase in each year of the agreement, retroactive to July 1, when the previous contract expired, McGuire said. Officers get an additional 1 percent raise in the first year of the contract to bring their pay into line with other Chittenden County police departments.

Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain said he and other negotiators were sensitive to the poor economy that may have some taxpayers feeling resentful about raises for public employees. He said that issue came up frequently during the final few bargaining sessions.

“We were trying to balance the need for officers to make a livelihood with the burden on taxpayers,” Chamberlain said.

McGuire said the new contract will add $40,000 to $50,00 to the annual budget. While acknowledging many private employees are not receiving raises amid the economic meltdown, he said providing competitive pay reduces turnover and attracts top-notch officers.

“Regardless of what is happening with the economy and other taxpayers’ jobs, for this job it is hard to find quality people,” he said.

The new contract provides a bigger pay hike for some personnel on top of the across-the-board raises. The senior dispatcher will gain supervisory duties along with a 2 percent pay increase, McGuire said. The department’s lone detective position, which is rotated among the three sergeants, also receives a 2 percent increase.

Another step has been added to the top of the pay scale. Sergeants with 15 or more years of service get a 6 percent boost, and the longest serving officers receive a 2 percent hike.

The shift differential jumps by 20 cents an hour starting in November, and rises by another 5 cents in 2010.

Talks began in April on a revised police contract. An impasse was declared in August and a federal mediator was called in to work out differences.

In years past, negotiations between police and the town had been contentious. In 2005, for example, contract talks reached an impasse after just a month and officers threatened to picket.

This year, however, negotiations went relatively smoothly, Chamberlain said. Union members voted to approve the contract last week.

The former pay scale for officers ranged from $18.04 an hour to $27.64 an hour, depending on years of service and rank. Dispatchers’ hourly pay was between $16.22 and $21.40.

Negotiations with Williston firefighters, the town’s only other unionized employees, remain unsettled, McGuire said. The four full-time firefighters, who were hired in 2006 to supplement a contingent of on-call personnel, voted last year to join the International Association of Fire Fighters. They are currently paid from $17.72 to $21.04 an hour.