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Police, Fitchburg settle contract

By Brandon Butler
Article Launched: 11/11/2008 06:03:30 AM EST

FITCHBURG -- The city and the police union agreed to a four-year contract that if approved by City Council could give city cops a 6 percent raise by the end of fiscal year 2010, Police Union President Ronald L'Ecuyer said Monday night.
L'Ecuyer said he and the union membership are not happy with the contract, but he believes Mayor Lisa Wong negotiated it in good faith.
"(The union is) not happy with it, it doesn't come close to closing the gap with the (salary of the) fire union," L'Ecuyer said after Monday's ratification vote by the union. "But they believe it was the best she could have done under these circumstances."
L'Ecuyer said the contract gives the union no cost of living increases for fiscal years 2007, 2008 and the first half of 2009.
During the second half of 2009 -- which is in January 2009 -- the union will receive a 2 percent salary increase, he said. In fiscal year 2010, it will give the union a 4 percent salary increase.
L'Ecuyer estimated the total cost of the contract to be about $350,000.
The contract must still be ratified by the City Council.
Wong said she's happy an agreement has been reached.
"I'm extremely pleased that we are working on one major resolution toward what I hope will be a very healthy and productive focus on public safety issues," Wong said. "And I'm very pleased that we were able to settle a contract that's been outstanding for some years." L'Ecuyer said the union's last contract expired

L'Ecuyer said the city firefighters -- who have a ratified contract -- get paid an average of $9,000 more than police, and he said this will only narrow that gap by a few thousand dollars.
Wong did not say how she planned on paying for the contract, because as of Monday night she had not gotten confirmation from the city's labor attorney that she could discuss the details of the contract.
Wong did set aside $400,000 from the city's free cash account -- or unused money -- to pay for contract negotiations earlier this year. Wong would not discuss details of the contract's value Monday, but said it is "fair" and "within the city's current constraints."
Wong said she hopes a new contract would improve morale and decrease the number of officers who want to transfer out of the department.
Wong said last week that she would not authorize transfers of officers out of Fitchburg.
"It is a goal of mine, that despite a tough fiscal time, that we move toward parity with other towns," Wong said. "It may take a few years, but this is toward that direction."
Councilor at-large Annie DeMartino said she hadn't heard details of the contract, but after hearing that the contract calls for a 6 percent raise, DeMartino said she would not vote for it.
"The answer will be no," DeMartino said. "How in the heck can we afford that?"
DeMartino said that a 6 percent raise is "far too extravagant." She said if the city spends too much money on the Police Union contract then there will not be enough money for other unions that are also working without a contract.
Councilor at-large Stephan Hay, chairman of the city's Finance Committee, said he hadn't heard details of the contract Monday night either.
"If an agreement has been reached that's a positive thing for the city," he said.
Hay said the police have earned and deserve a new contract.
As for the details of how much it would cost, Hay said he wants to see how Wong proposes to pay for the contract.
"I'm waiting to see how the mayor intends to fund this," he said.
Hay said he doesn't know if the city has enough money in the free cash account to pay for such a contract.
Police Chief Robert DeMoura said he's happy an agreement has been reached.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is resolved and now we can move forward," DeMoura said.
DeMoura said he never thought the lack of a contract interfered with the officers' commitment to the community, but he said he's happy to see the issue resolved. Wong said she's hoping to settle more contracts in the near future. She said by the end of the calendar year she would like to propose additional contracts to the City Council for ratification.
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