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Police, county agree to 2.5% merit raise


Howard County negotiators and police have reached a tentative two-year agreement that would give police a 2.5 percent merit increase on the anniversary of their employment.

Police also would receive an additional 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise in January if county revenue rises sufficiently.

The agreement would add no work days to the officers' current schedule, which the county had sought to do. Police had argued that the proposed 25 extra days would cut into their backup jobs and increase personal expenses for day care and transportation.

Police will vote on the agreement the first week of June, union officials said. Their current contract expires June 30. If an accord isn't reached, officers could continue working without a contract because county law forbids them from striking.

The tentative agreement was reached after 10 hours of negotiations Wednesday, and after both sides failed for months to come to an agreement on their own or with assistance from a mediator and fact-finder.

"I'm very pleased," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker of the proposal. "In these tough economic times, it's a very good package that we agreed on."

But Dale L. Hill, president of the 215-member Howard County Police Association, was less pleased. "We're not ecstatic," he said. "It's the best we could do, but we're not happy with it."

Maryland's "richest county," he said, should be able to afford a cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for officers by July 1. He also expressed concern that a new two-tier health plan will discourage potential recruits.

In addition to the merit increase, police would receive a 2.5

percent cost-of-living adjustment on Jan. 1 if the county's income tax receipts this year increase by 9 percent, Mr. Hill said. For months, negotiators debated when a COLA should be given and how big it should be.

The county said a COLA should be given only if its treasury could afford it.

But police argued that officers average $31,000 annually and had not received a cost-of-living increase in two years.

The union had wanted a 3 percent increase effective between July 1 and January. It sought another 1 percent increase, to take effect in April 1994 if the county's income tax receipts increase by at least 5 percent.

Last month, independent fact-finder Herbert Fishgold recommended that officers receive a 1 percent COLA on Oct. 1, a 1 percent COLA on January 1, 1994, and an additional 1 percent COLA in April 1994, if the county's total income tax receipts for fiscal 1993 exceed the total for fiscal 1992 by 6 percent or more.

Wednesday's agreement would also double officers' life insurance for accidental death coverage to a minimum of $30,000, and for the first time would give officers $50,000 of in-the-line-of-duty death benefits, Mr. Hill said. The accord would compensate officers for working July 4 and create a two-tier health care plan for employees hired after 1993.

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