EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 8, 2012

Methuen officers up for raises 10 percent raise, fitness bonus

By Douglas Moser dmoser@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — METHUEN — The city’s police patrolmen will be in line for a 10 percent raise next summer under a new contract proposal, a bump city officials said equated to the cut they took in 2009 and makes up for reductions in education incentive pay increases.

City councilors passed the new contract last Monday on a 6-2 vote, with councilors Ronald Marsan and Jeanne Pappalardo voting no. Council President Jennifer Kannan abstained. The contract must pass one more vote before going into effect. Councilors approved a new contract for middle management employees that includes a 5 percent raise, though on a 5-4 vote.

“It strings out 2 percent over course of the last five years,” Mayor Stephen Zanni said of the patrolmen’s contract. “The Quinn Bill will no longer be in existence. That’s a tremendous savings.”

Marsan and Pappalardo, who voted against both contracts, said the votes were not personal and complimented the employees, but were adhering to campaign promises to not raise taxes for any reason.

“First and foremost, during the election season I had taken a no-tax-increase pledge. That is the main reason,” Pappalardo said. “Secondly, the other reason is I believe the taxpayers of Methuen have paid their share. I think we’re still in not a very good economy.”

The Quinn Bill is the name of a 1970s-era state law that encouraged police patrolmen and senior officers to pursue education in return for an increase in base pay of as much as 25 percent. The Commonwealth and each municipality split the increased salary down the middle, but the Legislature in 2009 stopped funding its portion.

Methuen has been paying the full amount – the Commonwealth and the Methuen portion – of Quinn Bill raises. For new hires starting next year, the state incentive system will be replaced with a flat increase of $2,000 for an associate’s degree, $4,000 for a bachelor’s degree and $6,000 for a master’s degree.

The current incentive is a 10 percent raise for earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice, a 20 percent raise for a bachelor’s in criminal justice or a 25 percent raise for a master’s in criminal justice or a law degree.

Patrolmen who receive the existing incentive will continue to get it. Zanni said the savings will be not be felt for a few years until the patrolmen currently with degrees begin to retire.

“Those officers that have degrees, that will not affect them,” he said. “It’s moving forward.” But he said the savings for the city in the future would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Starting on July 1, the patrolmen will get a 10 percent raise. Zanni said that equaled a 2 percent raise for each year from 2009 to 2013. The contract does not include any back pay. That 10 percent also equals the percentage pay cut most city employees, including patrolmen, took in 2009 during the worst of the financial crisis and recession.

The contract, which is effective from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2014, also includes a fitness stipend of $1,200. Patrolmen who each year pass a fitness test, which for those under 30 includes running 1.5 miles in 12 minutes and 18 seconds, doing 40 sit-ups in one minute and 33 push-ups in one minute and drawing a firearm and firing six rounds in 7.1 seconds, would qualify for the annual stipend. The minimum qualifying running time and the number of push-ups and sit-ups decline for older patrolmen.

A $700 uniform cleaning allowance also will be bumped up to $900 and included in base pay.

According to the Fiscal Year 2013 city budget, there are 68 patrolman positions budgeted at a total cost of $3.1 million. That averages to $48,969 per patrolman. A 10 percent raise, a $1,200 fitness stipend and a $900 uniform allowance would bring that average to $55,965.90.

Zanni said the completion of these contracts also clears out so-called side letters, where certain employees had negotiated an individual perk or incentive in addition to the contract.

Councilor Thomas Ciulla, who supported the patrolmen’s contract but opposed the middle management contract, said public safety is a priority.

“That’s a no-brainer for me. I put public safety first,” he said. “I’ve got to take care of my police.”

The middle managers contract was approved 5-4, with councilors Marsan, Pappalardo, Ciulla and Joyce Campagnone voting against.

Zanni said the biggest changes were an immediate 5 percent pay increase – 2.5 percent each for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 – with no back pay, and a 2.5 percent raise on July 1 for the next fiscal year.

Marsan said he did not begrudge employees for asking for raises, but said the city should put the brakes on.

“Every employee deserves a raise, we just can’t afford to do it,” he said. “We have great employees, and I work with them (as a contractor). Ninety-nine-point-nine percent are excellent. We just don’t have money.”

At the meeting last Monday, councilors said a few employees were clocking in late and leaving early, a charge the mayor disputed. Cuilla said while city employees generally have been in line, arriving on time and taking lunches when they are supposed to, he saw different behavior when the mayor was out of town recently.

“We have a bunch of great employees, but a few of them don’t do what they’re supposed to,” Ciulla said. “When the mayor is out, the mice play. I told the mayor, ‘I know you’re trying to get things on track, so I don’t hold you accountable.’”

Leaders of the unions, middle management president Joe Giarusso and Methuen Police Patrolmen Association president Detective Thomas McMenamon, did not return phone calls seeking comment last week.

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