North Adams Council OK's Retro Raise for Officers
The agreement covers the two years — 2009 and 2010 — during which police were working without a contract. The retroactive agreement gives officers a 2 percent raise for each year at a cost of $40,000.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the agreement would allow a fresh start by bringing the police union up to the same level as the five unions that have had contracts and set the stage for the next round of talks.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer, however, questioned if this was the time to give out raises, even such small ones.
"Given that state employees, most private sector employees, Social Security retirees haven't recieved an increase," she said. "It seems a little generous."
Alcombright said the city's legal counsel had advised going with the 2 percent because the other unions had received closer to 5 percent to 5.5 percent in terms of step or wage increases during those years. Should it have gone to the labor board, the city could have been ordered to give the police the same amount, he said.
"We think this was a very fair settlement," said the mayor. "Negotiations went very, very well and the police dealt with it very respectfully."
Blackmer agreed it was important to consider the legal advice, but continued "it is really hard to sit here and vote for these increases when we've just raised taxes, we just raised our water fees and we've instituted a sewer fee because we don't have any money ... This is really disconcerting."
Councilor Keith Bona noted that the city's employees are among the lowest paid in the county. "While 2 percent is less than 5 percent, given in previous years," he said, "our police officers are still fighting the fight just as much as the other towns and getting paid several thousand less."
Councilor Michael Bloom said it had to be understood it was a contract that had been delayed, not a new one.
Alcombright said the funds for the raises would come from the police overtime account; depending on overtime or sick time, the entire amount could be covered from already budgeted amounts. If not, it would come from the $90,000 the council recently transferred into an unclassified reserve account.
The city is still in talks with the firefighters on a retroactive contract for the same years and is in negotiations, or preparing to go into talks, with all seven public unions. Alcombright said the hope was for three-year contracts with all of them so those issues could be put aside awhile.
"I really hope that in the next contract you look for some nonmonetary benefits," said Blackmer, who added she wasn't against unions but has been hearing from residents.
"Trust me, those conversations are being held right now," responded Alcombright, adding it would be difficult to continue without concluding the past contracts. He also said the talks over the insurance settlement had allowed for discussions about the city's financial condition.
"They understand. There's no question they understand," he said. "When you say there's no money, people know. They get it."
The seven councilors present voted unanimously to approve changes to the compensation plan for police officers; Councilors Marie Harpin and Michael Boland were absent.
In other business, the council:
► Approved changes to the Commission on Disabilities that would allow "salaried staff members of handicapped service providing agencies" to serve on the committee as is done in other communities.
► Authorized the mayor to sign a sewer agreement with the town of Adams that adds the gravel bank and several parcels behind the old State Street to the town's septic system and extends the contract to 2036. The contract also calls for a $20,000 hook up fee for commercial development, as required by the Adams Selectmen. The city has had an agreement with the town for 25 years to accept waste water along the southern Route 8 corridor that includes the industrial park and former North Adams Plaza.
► Approved the appointing of election officers (listed below) with Councilor Gailanne Cariddi, who is running in the primary, abstaining. They also approved the warrant for the primary on Sept. 14 with Cariddi, again, abstaining.
► Set a public hearing for Verizon and National Grid for setting utility poles at the intersection of Union and Main streets for Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m.