Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 22
 
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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Final Agreements in Police Contract Stir Up Debate in Borough Council

Dilshanie Perera

Council approved the final agreements between the Borough, the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) Local 130, and the Sergeants of the Superior Officers’ Association in a 3-1 vote last Tuesday. The agreement delineates salary increases, compensation, vacation time, insurance, training, and other terms that are in effect until December 31, 2009, and are retroactive to January 1, 2008.

Borough Council members David Goldfarb, Andrew Koontz, and Kevin Wilkes voted in favor of the agreement, while Roger Martindell voted against it. Margaret Karcher and Barbara Trelstad were absent.

In a memo to Council, Administrator Robert Bruschi noted that since the contract expires at the end of this year, negotiations for the new agreement would begin in the late summer or early fall. “I’m hopeful that we will be able to make some additional inroads in our discussions with all unions for ways that they can help curtail the cost of health benefits while also continuing to have a fair and equitable contract,” he commented.

During the meeting, Mr. Martindell mentioned that entry-level sergeants make approximately $107,000 as base pay, and asked how much health benefits cost the Borough. Mr. Bruschi said that there are different options, but that for a single person, the totals were roughly $6,000 per year.

Citing a number of other expenses, like overtime pay for being on standby, or for attending staff meetings, Mr. Martindell said, “I’m not suggesting that it’s unusual, or that there’s not a rationale; I am suggesting that it is expensive.”

Mr. Goldfarb explained that the state legislature “has made it impossible for us to negotiate anything less,” and warned that their policies would have to change “or we’re all going to be priced out of living here.”

“When you look at overtime figures in the budget, they’re very nominal as compared to other municipalities in the state with a comparable force,” Mr. Bruschi said.

When asked about sick days, which are paid and unlimited on the police force, Mr. Bruschi noted that on average, members of the police department take under five days of sick leave per year. “It is a policy that has worked well, and is an incentive to use sick days responsibly,” Mr. Goldfarb acknowledged, adding that the leave should continue to be monitored to ensure the policy is not abused.

Under part of the agreement, any member of the bargaining unit who elects to obtain health insurance coverage through his or her spouse will be paid $2,500 dollars per year. Mayor Mildred Trotman called the policy a “good deal,” especially because the Borough would otherwise be paying $3,500 or more for the employees’ health insurance.

Salary increases are at 3.75 percent for 2008 and 2009, a fact that Mr. Bruschi called “very reasonable” as compared to other municipalities in the area.

Mr. Martindell concluded that “consolidation of the police forces is a very important goal for benefitting the Borough and Township taxpayer” and that hiring new staff for the police department should be curtailed if possible.

Adding a caveat, Mr. Koontz noted that if the staffing levels were not up to par, the Borough would be paying for overtime, and thus may not effect a savings.

Mr. Wilkes remarked that “one of the main reasons to study this so carefully is to imagine the spiraling costs down the road of the police force as they grow. If we can bring the absolute numbers down, we can control the absolute spiral.”

Suggesting that “we examine carefully what we want our police officers to do,” Mr. Goldfarb added that negotiations would be “starting all over again” this year.

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