WESTBROOK — The Westbrook Police Association is in the midst of getting new contracts put in place that City Administrator Jerre Bryant said will allow the city to better compensate and recruit officers.
The City Council accepted the contracts at first reading Monday and will vote on final approval Oct. 15. The police association has already accepted the contracts, which cover 37 patrol and sergeant positions.
Since labor contracts can only be for three-years, two contracts were negotiated to allow the association to have an updated contact through 2021. The first contract expires at the end of the year and the other on Dec. 31, 2021. They bring Westbrook wages and benefits for officers in line with those of other local police forces in the area.
what will officers get?
The new contract will cost the city an additional $47,381 this fiscal year, $88,771 in fiscal year 2020, $127,625 in fiscal year 2021 and $37,005 in fiscal year 2022. This would mean an additional 2.5 cents in the tax rate this fiscal year, and additional 4.7 cents in fiscal year 2020, 5.4 cents in fiscal year 2021 and 2 cents in fiscal year 2022.
Bryant said the police union did a wage compensation survey of other police departments in the region and found that their pay scale was at the bottom of the group.
“It was a collective effort between the union representation and the city in doing the background work to assess where Westbrook’s officers’ wages fell throughout the region,” Police Chief Janine Roberts said.
Bryant said the review also took into account the system used by the Westbrook Police Department in which an officer, who has been in the department for at least 20 years, qualifies for a pension of 50 percent of his or her highest three years and earnings. In other communities, employees of at least 25 years earn a pension of 50 percent of earnings. Others cap the pension at two-thirds of earnings after 25 years in the department.
“Before the comparison was valid, we needed to take into account pension costs,” Bryant said.
After figuring in those costs, he said, the goal was to bring Westbrook to the middle of the area salary range by applying an incremental market adjustment every 3½ years on top of the annual 2 percent wage adjustment.
Bryant said the new contract makes Westbrook more appealing for police officers to come work, something Roberts agrees with.
“It is a very difficult market to recruit and retain officers. We don’t want to be at the top, but we feel we do need to be in the middle of the mix,” Bryant said.
Bryant said when he started in city administration in South Portland in 1981, it was not uncommon for a vacancy to draw 200 applications. If a vacancy now in Westbrook yields 20 applicants and one or two finalists, it is considered a successful search, he said.
Over the years, the job and responsibilities of a police officer have become more and more difficult and dangerous, leading many to think twice about that career.
“It’s become a difficult area for recruitment,” he said.
The city is also trying to negotiate updated contracts with four other employee groups: the firefighter union, the public safety dispatch union, the public services union and the general unit, which includes librarians, code enforcement and community services workers and other municipal employees who aren’t represented in other unions.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews.
The city council took the first step this week to bring forth a new contract through 2021 for Westbrook police officers and sergeants. (File photo)