Sunday, December 04, 2005

Glitches Cause Delays for Police Contract Settlements

A final vote on settlement of police contracts will not take place Monday (Dec. 5, 2005) due to a mix-up on publication of the enabling ordinances.

The City Council regular meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

At last week's agenda session, city officials said seven ordinances were submitted to the Courier News to allow for public hearings and final passage, but all ran afoul of the newspaper's Thanksgiving holiday schedule. Now final passage will be put off until Dec. 19, extending the City Council's year that was expected to end Dec. 12.

The ordinances included settlements for both rank-and-file officers and superior officers.

Police have been waiting three years for settlement of the contract that expired Dec. 31, 2002. More than 100 officers are at the top of the pay scale and are due to receive back pay of $7,272 in the settlement. As of Jan. 1, 2006, these officers will see their pay increase from the 2002 level of $62,277 to $72,505.

Police Benevolent Association Local 19 President Andre Crawford said Sunday (Dec. 4, 2005) some members had hoped to have the lump sum back pay in time for the holidays, but realistically it will come in the first paycheck in January.

Crawford said the police union sought early talks with the city administration in 2002, but did not receive any attention until four days before the contract expired.

"The bottom line is, it' all about respect," Crawford said. "They blew us off."

The union ended up having to hire lawyers and a forensic accountant before achieving settlement, he said.

"We spent a fortune on attorneys' fees," Crawford said.

The new contract expires at the end of 2006, meaning the union will soon have to begin negotiations again. Crawford expressed hopes that the next settlement will not be so contentious.

Another delayed ordinance would convey 13 city properties to Kings Temple Community Development Corp. for erection of 1- and 2-family homes. The sites were formerly part of the failed New Century Homes plan to build homes on 67 city parcels.

Budget amendments for the fiscal year that began July 1 , 2005 were also put off.

The agenda session (Nov. 28, 2005) became tumultuous with Councilman Ray Blanco's effort to introduce several new ordinances that were not on the agenda. Blanco also questioned the allocation of funds for the city's local cable origination channel, saying several years' worth of franchise fees were not properly allocated.

The city receives 2 percent of the franchise fees annually for support of the local origination channel. In this year's budget, the amount is &119,600. Blanco alleged that $481,00 in franchise fees over several years was in question.

In one of the budget recommendations, the position of the main cable television staffer was reduced to part-time, raising the issue of how the franchise fees were allocated.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget, police