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Hartford Police Contract: Smart Moves, Still Too Costly

Hartford Courant Editorial

June 08, 2012

Though the numbers are on the high side, especially for a distressed city, Hartford's new police contract at least begins to move the city toward sustainable budgeting.

But most of the gains for the city don't kick in for many years, until newly hired officers are well into their careers or at retirement. Without putting too fine a point on it, the city may need help sooner than that.

The city council approved a new, six-year labor agreement last week with the Hartford Police Union, whose members have been working under an expired contract for two years. The new contract includes wage freezes for the two fiscal years since the last agreement, and raises in the coming four years.

The 456 union members will receive 3 percent raises in each of the next three fiscal years and a 3 percent raise during the 2015-16 fiscal year. The numbers are on the high side of the average range for comparable contracts. The union voted 361-11 in favor of the deal. Given the city's budgetary constraints, we are surprised the vote was so close.

As with many municipal unions across the country, the Hartford police union locked in remarkably generous pension and benefit deals in the salad days of the 1990s and 2000s. But the recession and other economic factors have made it increasingly difficult for cities and states to meet these obligations (or spend money on other services). Hartford, like other cities, has been trying to claw some of those benefits back, and officials say they made progress with this contract, to wit:

For officers hired after July 1 of this year, income from private jobs will no longer be included in the pension formula. That premium pay from utility companies and others for monitoring construction sites was part of the pension formula is an outrage and never should have been there.

The chief will be allowed to limit the use of compensatory time. "Comp time" can be a good management tool, but many officers were taking it on Fridays and Saturdays, driving up the overtime budget, city officials say.

The contract allows the city to hire civilians for some jobs now being done by sworn officers. Mayor Pedro Segarra said as many as 18 positions could be switched from sworn officers to civilians for a savings of $800,000 to $1 million.

There are some other advantages for the city. The employee contribution for health insurance goes up slightly, from 13 to 14 percent of the monthly premium. Newly hired officers will have to make a larger contribution to the pension fund a trend nationally because pension funds are not garnering the returns they once did and wait until age 55, with 25 years of service, to collect their pensions.

On the other hand, overtime is still in the pension formula, so officers who pile it up in their last years can retire at or above their working salaries. Someday, somehow, pensions must be capped; people shouldn't retire at more than they made on the job. Benefits such as cashing out sick and comp days are an expensive throwback to another era. The private sector doesn't even have pensions anymore.

Hartford is in a difficult position. It needs to control crime to attract residents and businesses, and has to pay police salaries that are competitive with those offered by suburban departments (a regional salary structure might be a solution). The city has protected police and fire jobs at the expense of those in other departments. Almost two-thirds of the city's non-education workforce is in public safety; the city has the largest police and fire departments in the state. Can it continue to pay for them? Mr. Segarra is trying to get $1 million in union and non-union concessions to balance the budget. This could become an annual ritual.

Hartford, like many other cities, has to bring its union contracts back to earth. This was a start; it may not be enough.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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