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LANCASTER -- Police officers will receive a 2 percent salary increase beginning Jan. 1 and 3 percent increases in each of the following two years under a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement announced this week.
"I think both sides are, overall, happy," Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said. "I'm sure both sides would have liked to have gotten a little more, but we need to be realistic with the economy."
The new contract reduces the town government's portion of health benefits for police from 90 percent to 80 percent, and offers educational incentives, including $3,000 for officers who earn their associate's degrees, and $3,600 for those who earn their master's.
Officers will also receive a $1-per-hour increase for police detail work for each of the next three years, earning $42 per hour by the final year of the contract.
"We got the one thing we needed," Selectman Jennifer Leone said. "That was the reduction of the health insurance. Costs for health insurance have gone up at a much greater rate than income."
Town governments must negotiate contracts with any group of workers belonging to a union.
Lancaster employs eight police officers, Pacheco said.
He added that town leaders will turn their focus to contracts for public safety dispatch employees in the coming weeks.
Pacheco and selectmen have also called for all town departments to reduce expenditures by about 3 percent. "We're not cutting the budget, per se," Pacheco said. "We're just asking department heads to hold back. We've got to provide a sound, balanced budget to the taxpayers. The appetite for tax increases certainly isn't there, and people are struggling and they need us to come in line."

Unspent money would be funneled back into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year, Finance Director Cheryl Gariepy said, and would likely become free cash.
"Any large projects that could wait until the spring can be put off," Gariepy said.
She added that the cost savings to the town won't be extraordinary, considering about two-thirds of the town's budget supports the Nashoba Regional School District.
However, she said, any cuts town leaders can afford to make are important, because fiscal years 2009 and 2010 promise to be even tighter than the current fiscal year.
"We're seeing a lot of trends that tell us fiscal year 2010 is going to be the toughest year," she said.
Pacheco said dwindling state revenues, possible future decreases in local aid and the crisis in the housing market support Gariepy's gloomy projections.
Leone said department heads may not like the 3 percent reduction, but it beats a total spending freeze. "You have to spend money on some things, or else you'll have to pay more later on," Leone said. "There are other ways to reduce spending, and I think a short-term reduction saves money in the long term."
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