Town, police close to contract agreement

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Town officials and the police union appear poised to ratify a contract after several months of sometimes heated negotiations.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons confirmed that an offer was made to the union after Monday night’s executive session of the Selectboard. “An offer was made during negotiations. I hope that it goes forward,” she said.

The two sides had been unable to come to an agreement on a salary and benefits package after several meetings last summer, and brought in a mediator to help. When those talks failed, both sides agreed to hire a professional fact finder. Ira Lobel was paid $5,000 for his research, which culminated in a 26-page report detailing everything from police uniforms to salaries and vacations.

In comparing the Williston Police Department to comparable departments in Chittenden County, the report stated, “…a 4.5 percent across the board raise on July 1, 2005 together with a 2 percent across the board raise on January 1, 2006 to accommodate the adjustment in health insurance, would be needed to bring Williston police officers in line with the other departments in the county.”

The report also noted “salary increases for sergeants should be 6 percent in FY 2006, 5.5 percent in FY 2007, and 5.5 percent in 2008.”

According to alternate Union Steward Bart Chamberlain, a Williston police sergeant, the town’s latest offer is 2 percent less than the report recommended for sergeants. “My sense is that the union is probably going to endorse it,” he said.

Chamberlain is not entirely happy, however, that the town’s offer does not adhere to the recommendations in the report for sergeants’ salaries. Citing the difficulty in retaining staff, he expressed concern with the implications for the future.

“Those who have chosen to stay here more than 5 years are the ones that the Selectboard has chosen not to compensate according to the fact finder’s report,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear message they’re sending. I won’t be surprised if some (sergeants) leave very soon.”

Lyons acknowledged that the town’s offer is not exactly what the report recommended, but indicated that it is a fair compromise. “The town’s offer supports the fact finder’s report in many ways. It is not exactly like it,” she said. “There is a slight difference between officers and sergeants, but all are in the same relative area with respect to other departments like Essex and Colchester.”

The police union vote was scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. If the police union vote is favorable, the contract will go back to the Selectboard for official approval. Lyons said a special Selectboard meeting would probably be held Thursday, contingent on the outcome of the police vote.