GREENBELT – City police will get a raise, but it still isn’t what they wanted.
The raise comes in the wake of an administrative hearing where the Mayor and Council made the decision following a collective bargaining impasse.
The Mayor and Council, in their role as the administrative hearing board in collective bargaining disputes, decided to give the officers of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 32 a 2 percent cost of living increase in the first year of the new agreement, a 1.8 percent increase in the second year and a 1.9 percent increase in the third year.
However officers will not get the step increases that halted in 2010.
Donna Gomez, a family member of an FOP member, said the police got the short end of the stick.
“I think that’s a terrible deal. Terrible,” Gomez said. “Police are not feeling valued at a time when their contract is not being honored past the time when the economy has picked up and they should’ve gone back and honored what they gave up four years earlier. They’re not feeling valued.”
The parties reached an impasse when they could not agree to terms. The union’s final proposal asked for a 1.5 percent cost of living increase in year one of the deal as well as for three percent step increases to be reinstated each year.
The city countered with an either-or proposal. The officers could either have a 3 percent step increase reinstated for three years or receive cost of living wage increases of 1.7 percent, 1.8 percent and 1.9 percent.
Mayor Emmett Jordan said he wanted to find a way for the city to stick with the stepped pay scale plan, but the budget is tight since the city is still trying to catch up on capital improvements projects following the Great Recession.
“I want to maintain a good relationship with the FOP,” Jordan said. “Our city police officers do a great job. It has been tough and the economy has been really bad. I am very sympathetic to their needs. Everybody deserves more money, but we have got to balance it with other needs.”
The city is currently faced with renovating the Old Greenbelt Theatre as well as repairing the Greenbelt Lake dam. In the proposed 2015 capital budget the theatre will receive $1.2 million for renovation and the dam will receive $110,000.
“If we had more resources it would be nice to do more,” Jordan said, “but we’re kind of climbing out of one of the deepest recessions in 50 to 75 years.”
One of the city’s concerns with the FOP’s proposal is the plan would cost $775,000 for three years, including $225,000 during the first fiscal year. The city, which according to the charter must maintain reserves of 10 percent of total expenses, would see its reserves drop to 9.7 percent if it accepted the FOP’s proposal.
Jeremiah Collins, an attorney representing the police union, said at the Wednesday night hearing the city has recovered from the recession and can afford to give the police stepped pay increases.
According to budget data from the city’s finance department, the city has had reserves higher than 10 percent every year since 2012. In 2012 the city adopted a budget with 11.4 percent reserves, 11.5 percent in 2013 and 12.4 percent in 2014. The city’s reserves were 7.5 percent in 2011 and 8.9 percent in 2010.
“You’ve had those improvements in the basic financial health of the city, you’ve had police officer salary costs projected to be lower in fiscal 2015 than they were last year,” Collins said. “Total salaries of the department—total base salaries—have dropped from $3.5 million in fiscal 2013 according to what the city says in the first page of its position statement to $2.8 million in fiscal 2014 on page three of that statement.”
Stephen Silvestri, an attorney representing the city, said the city’s revenue has remained constant, hovering around $24 million. The mayor and council’s 2014 adopted budget provided $24.6 million. The city brought in $25.5 million in revenue in 2013 and $24.6 million in 2012.
“There hasn’t been significant growth in revenue and significant growth in the fund balance,” Silvestri said. “There hasn’t been a significant amount of money that’s available for unrestricted use. The revenue and the fund balance have remained constant.”
However, the city has experienced financial growth during the last 10 years, Collins said.
“Greenbelt finds itself with less than half of the debt that it had in fiscal 2004, with a fund balance which has been brought up from being only 4.6 percent of expenditures in fiscal 2005, to 7.3 percent in 2010 to 10 percent today,” he said.
Silvestri said he does not believe the union is wrong in asking for a raise, but circumstances do not allow for the city to provide the increases the union wants right now.
“It is not a question of who is wrong or right,” Silvestri said.