Boro, Police Reach Tentative Agreement
With only about 20 days remaining on the McConnellsburg Police Association's contract, council members announced last Wednesday evening that the endof contract negotiations with the union would go to binding arbitration. The first arbitration session was held December 8, 2008, and borough solicitor Carlton Walker told the "News" on Monday evening that a tentative agreement was reached. Walker said that because the agreement is not yet official, she was unable to provide details. She did say that she hoped to able to provide more details once the agreement is official, perhaps, within the week. She also said that the agreement finally hammered out was not unanimous among the three arbitration panel members.
During the binding arbitration session, Walker represented the borough's interest, while the Police Association's labor lawyer, attorney Tony Busillo of Harrisburg, represented the union's interests. Under the requirements of binding arbitration, a third neutral attorney (from the Philadelphia area) was also chosen for the panel. Although no information on the negotiations has yet been made public, the fact that the issue went to binding arbitration would indicate the parties were unable to come to an agreement on issues such as health insurance, severance pay and other end-of-contract concerns. So generally speaking, both Walker and Busillo were likely in disagreement over the terms and the neutral party may have had the final say in the dispute.
The council voted 4-2 on August 28, 2008, to abolish its police force effective at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2008, when the current contract ends. Council members cited costs needed to maintain the department as its reason to terminate the two-man police force. A borough police department has existed in Mc- Connellsburg for more than 78 years.
Concerns over the cost of the police department first surfaced in 2002 when the police officers decided to unionize. For several months in 2002 and several more in 2003, council and the union attempted to negotiate a threeyear contract. During that time, council explored the idea of abolishing the police department but was met with resistance from the community and finally agreed to a contract. The contract covered the period of January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2005, and officers gained concessions in salaries and benefits. The police chief was given a 15 percent pay increase, while the sergeant was granted a 22 percent pay increase. Each was given $1,000 in longevity pay and a $500 signing bonus. In the second and third years of the contract, each officer received a $1,000 pay increase each year. Following original contract negotiations two years ago, the borough police chief's salary was set at $31,500 and the sergeant received $31,000. Both officers received pay increases in 2004 and in 2005.
A new contract was negotiated in 2005 for the three-year period from January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2008. Under the terms of that new contract, both Sgt. Doug Thomas and Chief Gary Long received pay increases of 2 percent on January 1, 2006; July 1, 2006; January 1, 2007; July 1, 2007; January 1, 2008; and July 1, 2008. The contract also gave each officer an additional longevity compensation of $100 for each full year of service, i.e., after the first full year of service, i.e., $100 shall be added to the annual salary and after the second full year of service, $200 shall be added to the annual salary.
During the past six years, council and the police department have clashed over working hours and rates of pay. Council had asked the borough police to work an occasional third shift on the weekends. Although the officers did not refuse, the contract was interpreted to require overtime pay even when 40 hours were not exceeded. Council did not feel its budget could support the extra pay. Council then wanted to advertise to hire a parttime police officer to perform duties on a third shift, but the officers' association said that any new officers would also be union members and would essentially have the same rights and responsibilities as the current officers. Council then abandoned the idea.
Feeling the pinch of the current economy and being committed to not raising property taxes in the borough, council made the decision earlier this year to abolish the department, citing the fact that the state police provide protection nearly 60 percent of the time while the borough police department provides protection less than 40 percent of the time. It was concluded that the budget expenditures for the department were not cost effective. The council held a public meeting on the abolishment and received comments both for and against keeping the department. Following that meeting, the council voted to abolish the department. Councilmen Jim Smith, Mike Chilcote and Lee Rager did not favor the abolishment, but Smith was unable to attend the meeting due to work obligations. Smith has continued to voice his opposition to the decision.
When discussing the abolishment of the department, council promised to return tax dollars saved to the borough citizens. Members kept their word by voting last month to decrease real estate tax millage for 2009 by two mills (from 7 mills to 5).
In other business on Wednesday evening, council approved payment to Boyer & Ritter for $1,697 for auditing the police pension fund. Earlier in the year, council authorized a payment of $4,750 for actuarial services for the police pension fund. Council secretary Jack Fields pointed out that costs for these services will continue after the department has been abolished.
Council reappointed council President Rick Buterbaugh to serve another four-year term on the Parks and Recreation Commission and also agreed to again set its regular monthly meetings on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Fulton House. With regard to the monthly meetings, Fields told council members that he will send them an advance agenda on the months when he is aware of persons who will be attending the meetings and what the subject matter will be. Last month, Councilman Smith had asked for the advance information.
Council approved a request from the Chamber of Commerce & Tourism to bag the parking meters downtown from December 4-January 5 for the convenience of holiday shoppers.
Councilwoman Pat Frazier updated the members on the latest rounds of curb-cuts using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding.
Council also approved a final 2009 budget for the borough (see separate story in this week's "News.")
During regular business, council approved the payment of November bills in the amount of $10,173.78. Receipts for the same period were $14,636.81. Checks were written for $20,910.39, leaving a December 1 balance of $24,386.36.
Council members present included Rick Buterbaugh, Travis Bard, Mike Chilcote, Mack Shaffer, Jim Smith, Pat Frazier and Mayor Jim Stenger.
The next regular Borough Council meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 7, 2009, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fulton House.