By Max Bowenemail@example.com
By a vote of 4-3, the Finance Subcommittee will forward a contract for the Police Patrol Officer’s Union to the Town Council with a recommendation to approve.
The vote came after a lengthy discussion at the subcommittee’s meeting on Wednesday, April 22. The three-year contract calls for a retroactive 2 percent raise starting July 2019, a 2.5 percent raise in July 2020, and a 2.5 percent raise in July 2021. Town Manager Michael Borg said the town has the funds for the 2019 raise, but state aid is facing a potential shortfall due to the financial impacts of COVID-19.
“The world changed since we made this agreement,” said Borg. “Budgets are looking different. Do the officers deserve it, absolutely.”
While no final figure is known at this time, estimates are that local aid could be 10-20 percent lower. This is due partly to the hotels and meals taxes almost completely evaporating since all non-essential businesses were closed in mid-March. Borg said he has instituted a hiring freeze for all but the essential positions, and a review of the budget is being done to see what savings can be found. This will be presented to the Town Council in the coming weeks.
“I don’t have a crystal ball and the state has not been forthcoming with this data,” said Borg. “We’re expecting an impact in the last quarter of 2020 and into 2021. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not something we’re looking at lightly.”
This news led to some on the subcommittee to consider whether now was the time to be approving the new contract, since layoffs could be in the town’s future. Ron Lagasse praised the police, saying the department risen to being one of the best in the state. He was concerned, however, about the town making commitments that it could not adhere to and asked if only the retroactive raise could be done. Borg explained that doing so would require a renegotiation of the contract.
“It needs to be all or nothing,” said Borg.
Subcommittee Chair Justin Pare said that the contract was a good one, but it was a sensitive time to be considering any spending.
“We need to see if it makes sense to go forward with any large investments,” he said.
Craig Cameron said he was torn, that at the time the contract was negotiated, the financial future was very different. He said that at this time, a lot of people are losing their jobs, and he questioned how it would look to be giving raises.
“I find that a three-year commitment, right now it puts the town at considerable financial peril,” he said.
Patrol Officer Union President Craig Chapman said the union has taken no raises for five of the last 10 years. He said that North Attleborough officers make 18.5 percent less than other communities and many complete their education with $60,000-$80,000 in debt.
“It’s paramount for the police officers,” said Chapman. “They’re exposing themselves to a highly contagious environment. To not come to terms would be disheartening and disconcerting.”
Subcommittee member Joann Cathcart said she worked for the NAPD for 13 years and sees the same dedication of the officers now as then. She added that they are on the front line and cannot work from home. John Simmons echoed this support, saying that unions have already taken a financial hit in past challenging economic times.
“They want to do their job and we need to do our job,” said Cathcart. “I truly believe we will find the way.”