Town, police still at odds

Police accuse town of stalling

By Marianne Apfelbaum

The police union and town officials met last week to discuss the recommendations contained in an independent fact finder’s report on police salaries and benefits. However, the latest effort failed to yield a contract agreement between police and the town.

The report was also mulled over by the Williston Selectboard in executive session until 11 p.m. Monday night, but the board adjourned without filing a motion, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire.

Wages and benefits are the big issues and have been since negotiations began over the summer, according to Alternate Union Steward Bart Chamberlain, a detective sergeant with the Williston Police Department.

“The town is refusing to comply with the wage recommendations (in the fact finder’s report),” Chamberlain said.

The report’s $5,000 price tag was split between the town and the police union.

“Why pay if we’re not going to listen to this professional?” Chamberlain said.

Among other things, the report recommends a 4.5 percent salary increase for officers and dispatchers for fiscal year 2006, and an increase of four percent in 2007 and 2008, plus “step” increases. A “step” is the two percent increase that police department employees receive after each year of employment, up to a cap of fifteen steps. The report also recommends a “two percent across the board increase on Jan. 1, 2006, at the same time the employees begin paying for part of their health insurance premium.”

Chamberlain said the union is willing to accept the fact finder’s recommendations, and claims the town’s offer of less than the recommended salary increases is “all a stalling tactic,” intended to force the union to accept a new prescription drug plan that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2006.

Both McGuire and Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons deny that the town is trying to prevent negotiations from moving forward. “There’s no stalling going on,” Lyons said, “just legitimate negotiations.”

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns administers a group insurance plan for town employees. Under the current prescription drug plan, each employee has a $50 deductible and a co-pay, which varies depending on whether drugs are generic, preferred or non-preferred, according to McGuire. Under the new “co-insurance plan,” each time an employee buys a drug, they pay a certain percentage.

“The concept is that employees have a stake in every purchase and will be better consumers,” McGuire said.

If the union has a signed contract by Dec. 31, the police department can remain in the current plan, according to Chamberlain. The town offered to accept the salary increases in the report only if the union “voluntarily agreed to move to the cheaper prescription plan,” claims Chamberlain. “They are using the plan as a bargaining chip.”

The 26-page fact finder’s report detailed several issues in addition to wages including uniform allowances; sick leave; overtime; shift differentials; and vacations. The fact finder recommended that the union withdraw its proposals on these issues. Chamberlain said the union is willing to do this, but expects the town to adhere to the recommendations regarding salary and benefits. Under the proposed agreement, the department would pay 10 percent of health insurance premiums.

As of press time, neither side could say when they would meet again, but Lyons is hopeful. “I think we’ll work out our differences,” she said.