Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 45
 
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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Borough Approves Union Negotiation With PBA 130 in Three-Year Agreement

Dilshanie Perera

In a 5-1 vote last week, Borough Council approved an agreement with police union PBA Local 130 pertaining to its contract with the municipality from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012. Council members Jenny Crumiller, David Goldfarb, Andrew Koontz, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes voted in favor, while Roger Martindell voted against the measure.

Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi explained that “over the past year we’ve been in contract negotiations with our bargaining units, and the PBA has agreed to the terms outlined in our memorandum of understanding.”

Overall, the negotiations have resulted in a 1.5 percent increase in the police budget for 2010 and a 2.4 percent increase for both 2011 and 2012, Mr. Bruschi explained.

Other changes or extensions of the previous three-year agreement include an increase of $500 in college tuition reimbursement in exchange for a grade of B or higher, a vision reimbursement program, and adjusted standby and callback training time.

“I believe this is the lowest three-year contract settlement in Mercer County,” Mr. Bruschi admitted.

Mr. Goldfarb noted that the agreement was “probably as good as can be accomplished in the current environment.”

Recommending that the vote be delayed “pending a more thorough review of its implications,” Mr. Martindell advocated for Council to first “have a better sense of where we are in our 2011 budget” and to take a closer look at the Governor’s initiative to reform interest arbitration before proceeding on approving the Borough’s own union contracts.

“The contract is retroactive to January 1 of this year. We adopted our 2010 budget without a settlement of this contract,” Mr. Goldfarb responded, adding that even if the State Legislature adopts a 2 percent hard cap on police budget spending, the outcome “is not going to be much different.”

Calling the amount spent on each police officer in the Borough’s department and throughout the state “staggering,” Mr. Martindell elaborated upon police salaries as of 2009.

“For a Borough patrol officer who has been here seven or more years, the salary is $93,336 at its base,” he declared, adding that longevity pay increases the salary by $1,867, and that health benefits can increase that number by approximately $20,000 for full family benefits.

Standby time, callback time, training, and pay increases because of specialization, health benefits, sick days, and vacations were all cited by Mr. Martindell as costly. “If you retire in the Borough after 25 years of service, you and your dependents get medical coverage for life … there’s nothing wrong with a lot of this stuff; it’s just expensive.”

“We do not negotiate with the police the same way we negotiate with other employees, even municipal employees,” Mr. Goldfarb countered. “We don’t have the right to deal with officers in a free market situation.” With the municipality’s police salaries tied to those of other towns, he said that “this contract is a good one in the framework that we have to operate within. We don’t have a choice.”

Mr. Bruschi was careful to note that “our bargaining unit has been extremely cooperative. And that’s not to say they have to maintain that.” If PBA 130 filed for third-party arbitration of contract negotiations should the Borough and the union not come to an initial agreement, the Borough may end up with a deal they would not like, he suggested. “I don’t like going into the unknown when we’re unsure what cards we’re going to hold.”

Council President Koontz thanked the PBA for “really recognizing the economic circumstances under which we’re operating currently.”

Mr. Wilkes said the discussion highlights the need “to get serious about unifying our police forces. This is not commodity pricing here. We have to reconceptualize our police department and how we staff it.”

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