2009-01-08 / Front Page

Boro Police Arbitration Finalized

Disbanded force wins concessions on leave payout, insurance and pensions
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

All end-of-contract issues for the disbanded McConnellsburg Borough Police Department have been settled as a result of a ruling made following binding arbitration held in December of last year.

Although the agreement was not unanimously agreed upon, two of the members did agree to the terms that must now be met by Borough Council. The agreement was made by a three-person arbitration board that included Carlton Cook Walker, attorney for the borough of Mc- Connellsburg; Anthony Busillo, attorney for the McConnellsburg Police Association and an impartial arbitrator, Ralph H. Colflesh Jr.; Esq. Colflesh, a Philadelphia attorney, was appointed by the Pa. Dept. of Labor as the neutral arbitrator. The board met in McConnellsburg on December 8, 2008, to take testimony on the issues

According to an official copy of the agreement obtained by the "News" through a "Right To Know" request, the two borough police officers, whose employment ended at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2008, will receive additional pension benefits, paid time for any future required court appearances, as well as payouts for sick leave, personal leave and

vacation days accumulated, but

not used by the end of their contract. .

According to the binding arbitration agreement, former Chief Gary Long will be paid $26,743.49 and former Sgt. Doug Thomas will be paid $26,726.40 for sick and personal leave and vacation days accumulated but not used. The officers were to be paid $5,000 each as a pre-payment on January 2, 2009. The majority of the arbitration board members found that such payment would have been required had either officer terminated employment with the borough even if the department had not been disbanded.

The agreement also requires that the officers' pension benefits must be amended, retroactive to January 1, 2009, to provide for a spousal and dependent survivor's benefit of 50 percent of the monthly pension benefit the officer was receiving at the time of the officer's death, including any cost of living adjustment required by legislative enactments that are applicable. The benefit will cost the borough about $48,000 total and must be contributed to the borough police pension fund by January 1, 2011. Also with regard to the officer's pension, the plan is required to be amended to allow for "full superannuation benefits (60 percent of final average compensation) upon the completion of 25 years of police service to the borough and the attainment of age 51 instead of age 55. Because only one officer is impacted by the change, it is estimated that change will cost the borough an additional $30,000.

With regard to health insurance benefits, the borough must reimburse each officer up to $1,000 per month for the first 36 months for the officers to obtain alternative medical coverage (receipts must be provided). In the event the officer opts out of this coverage, the officer will receive a $500-per-month cash bonus.

Although Borough Council cited economic reasons for disbanding the police department, the cost of the end-of-contract package will eventually likely exceed the $166,308 projection of costs to operate the department for one year. Council, however, anticipated a one-time payout in exchange for being able to drop future year police expenditures.

Life insurance policies owned by the McConnellsburg Police Pension Plan ($15,000 per officer) will continue to be owned by the plan by using the cash value of the plan or by continued premium payments. Group life insurance in the amount of $50,000 can be changed to an individual policy at the employee's expense by February 1, 2009.

In addition to the above concessions, the officers also must be paid for any future court ap- pearances at the overtime rate in effect at the end of the contract. The said rate must be paid at a minimum of two hours for magisterial district court and four hours for a common pleas court appearance. If either officer loses compensation from any other employer as a result of the court appearance, the payment amount must then be increased to cover any loss from the employment. The officers must also be compensated for mileage, meals and parking fees.

In the agreement, it was said that "a majority of the board finds that loss of employment by the officers after an average of about 25 years of service will have a substantial negative impact on them." It also said, "A majority of the board finds that their long tenure with the borough merits significant consideration."

In spite of the concessions gained by the former police, in the agreement, the borough gained the right to contract, subcontract, assign, civilianize or otherwise transfer any work formerly performed by the police, and it was agreed that the officers could not make any further claims for the work or file any complaint or grievance before any court, agency or board of arbitration.

This concession clears the way for council to discuss how parking meter and borough ordinances can be enforced since the state police cannot do those enforcements.

Attorney Walker told the "News" that she was not in agreement with all of the benefits given to the officers, saying she felt "some of them went beyond the terms of the labor contract." On those points, however, she was apparently overruled by the other two board members.

Borough Council meets on Wednesday evening and it is expected members will react to the arbitration agreement as well as discuss future enforcements in the borough.

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