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FAIRHAVEN - In a strong show of support for the Police Department, Town Meeting members voted Wednesday night for a contract that will give veteran police officers raises of more than 11 percent over the first two years of the three-year pact.
Voters considered 13 other articles in addition to the police contract in a speedy special Town Meeting that wrapped up in less than two hours.
In voting to fund the police contract, Town Meeting voters ignored the advice of the Finance Committee, which offered a motion to indefinitely postpone the article.
"You cannot continue to increase your salaries at a level far in excess of what you are bringing in for revenue," Finance Committee Chairman John Roderiques said in explaining the committee's recommendation.
The primary concern is not whether the town will be able to pay for the contract now, he said, but whether it will be able to meet the financial commitment in future years.
"The funds aren't there to sustain this contract," he said.
According to Executive Secretary Jeffrey Osuch, almost two-thirds of the town's police officers have at least eight years of service and qualify for the contract's largest raises.
Sgt. Michael Bouvier, the union's secretary, argued that the state-level review board that recommended the contract's terms did so only after determining that the town could afford the contract without going into a fiscal crisis.
Fairhaven's police salaries have lagged far behind salaries in comparable communities, he said.
For example, a top-step police officer in Mattapoisett earns about $7,500 more than an officer at the same step in Fairhaven, according to Police Chief Gary Souza.
"We cannot afford not to pay these people," said Ronald Manzone, a former selectman and intermittent police officer. "What they're after is fair wages."
Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly in favor of appropriating $249,618 to fund the contracts.
The money will pay for raises in fiscal 2008 and 2009, the first two years of the contract; in fiscal 2010, negotiations over police wages will reopen.
Town Meeting members also voted to appropriate $19,100 for the fiscal 2009 clerical union contract, which is a 3 percent raise for union members.
The Finance Committee had also recommended indefinite postponement of that contract.
Two articles seeking to amend town bylaws - the first changing the driveway and sidewalk construction bylaw, and the second reworking waterways users fee bylaw - stirred discussion, with some Town Meeting members arguing that changes to bylaws should go through public hearings before being voted on at Town Meeting.
Both bylaw amendments ultimately were approved.
In other business, Town Meeting voters:

  • Appropriated $141,830 for various expenses related to veterans services.
  • Appropriated $5,000 from Chapter 90 road funds to purchase a parcel of land on Howland Road that is needed for a road reconstruction project.
  • Authorized selectmen to request special legislation to allow the town to assess a betterment fee for costs related to certification of the hurricane barrier. Another vote at a future Town Meeting is required before any money can be expended.
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