Unionized police officers will vote today on a three-year
contract that would trim 15 positions from the police force -- but county and police officials say there will be no loss of police coverage because a new schedule will put officers on the road for more hours per shift.
Though police officials refuse to comment on the contract until after the vote, county and police union representatives expect the contract to be ratified.
County and union representatives agreed to propose a three-year contract because both sides had agreed last year on many issues, including pay increases, specialty payments, overtime, improved equipment and life insurance.
This year, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the contract negotiations was the issue of retirement benefits.
"The retirement issue was part of the reason for the extended bargaining," said Cecil Bray, chief negotiator and deputy chief administrative officer for Howard County. "A lot of issues revolved around that, and if that had fallen through, we would have had to go back to the beginning."
Under the new contract, police officers and corporals would be eligible for full retirement benefits of 50 percent pay at 20 years of service -- five years earlier than the previous contract.
For each year served after 20 years, a retiring officer would receive 1.5 percent more, to a maximum of 65 percent.
Before this contract, the county's 265 union police officers were eligible for full retirement benefits of 50 percent at 25 years of service, with a rate of increase of 2 percent a year until they reached 30 years of service.
Most police unions in surrounding jurisdictions have adopted the 20-year service requirement.
County representatives, concerned that the retirement package would be too costly, would agree to the plan only if the union proposed a way to fund it within the existing budget.
The cost of the program, estimated at $650,000, will be absorbed by changing officers' work schedules.
Under the proposed contract, officers would work 12-hour shifts instead of their current 9.5-hour shifts -- a schedule already used by the county's Department of Fire and Rescue. It would allow officers to work fewer days.
The 12-hour work schedule would put more officers on the streets, Bray said, by creating a rotating schedule of two platoons a day. More officers would be on the streets at the same time with little or no time for overlap.
"We're talking about changing the way we police," said Cpl. John Paparazzo, president of the local police union. "There will be longer work days, but more days off. That means more productive time with their families and outside interests."
Police will end up working the same number of hours -- 2,080 a year -- but the proposed schedule cuts overtime costs and sick leave and allows for more time off, which the county says makes for healthier officers.
If the contract is ratified today, County Executive Charles I. Ecker is expected to present it to the County Council at its first session FTC in January. After a public hearing, the council will vote on whether to approve the contract.
Once it is approved, officers will be eligible for all provisions of the contract back to July 1996.
While both sides agree that the negotiations were long and difficult, Bray said the atmosphere was tough but amiable.
"We were never at each others' throats," Bray said. "Both sides negotiated their sides in good faith and we worked hard to try to come to a middle ground."
Pub Date: 12/05/96