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South Portland approves 1 year police contract; balks at bolstering land bank funding

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South Portland approves 1 year police contract; balks at bolstering land bank funding

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday approved a one-year contract with police patrolmen and supervisors, but referred a plan to increase funding for open space back to workshop.

The one year contracts for the 42-member Police Patrol Association and the nine-member Command and Supervisory Unit of the Maine Association of Police will not give officers any raises next year. 

The contracts, however, will continue a recruitment and retention stipend, which went into effect in January. Officers will receive an additional 3 percent of their annual pay over the next year.

The cost of the two, one-year contracts will be about $35,000, entirely for the recruitment and retention stipends. The contract with the Patrol Association will cost nearly $27,500 and the Command and Supervisors Unit will cost more than $7,600.

"This one year agreement is a clear acknowledgment by our units’ members of the tough economic times that we’re all in," Police Lt. Frank Clark, who represented the command unit, said on Wednesday. "We’ll move forward from here and will look at these issue again in 2011."

Human Resource Director John McGough told councilors on Monday night the contracts will allow time for economic conditions to improve, so police and city staff can have more robust negotiations next year. 

"Next year, we will talk about some of the bigger issues we want to talk about." McGough said.

McGough did not detail what those issues might be, but said Wednesday the areas of interest for the city are wages, health insurance and time off accruals, like sick leave. 

In recent years, the city has been taking steps to try to make the department more enticing to new police officers.

The current contract, which expires on June 30, gave police a 3-percent annual raise as well as the recruitment and retention stipend, while also allowing lateral hires, so more experienced officers can transfer into the department and receive similar pay.

Historically, one of the major outlying issues has been police staffing. An ad-hoc committee's 2007 report on police staffing recommended hiring three officers so the city could move from a four-car patrol to a five-car patrol.

"I can only hope that staffing, recruitment and retention will remain priorities for the city," Clark said.

Land bank

Meanwhile, councilors voted 6-1 to refer back to a workshop a proposal that would have increased funding to the city's land bank, which may be used to purchase or maintain open spaces.

The proposal would have allocated 60 percent of revenue generated from the sale of undeveloped land and 30 percent from developed land into the account, which currently receives only 5 percent of total sales.

Another $35,000 would have been allocated annually through the city's Capital Improvement Plan.

Councilors, however, were not prepared to vote on the measure due to uncertainty about language centered around a $1 million cap on the fund and whether councilors had a legal right to require a super-majority vote to waive the rules and put more or less money into that account.

Councilors Rosemarie De Angelis and Tom Blake tried to require a 3/5ths vote of the council to waive the funding requirement, but Mayor Tom Coward said the council did not have the legal authority to do that.

"This is just the city allocating money," Coward said. "It should be subject to the normal give and take of budget politics."

Since the city no longer staffs corporation counsel for meetings, an objective legal opinion could not be given Monday night.

"This is a perfect example of a time when we need a legal opinion and we don't have it," De Angelis said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net