Contract gives big boost to Balto. County police

Proposal aims to make salaries more competitive

February 24, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County and the union representing its police officers have reached tentative agreement on a four-year contract that would pump at least $20 million into officers' salaries -- which ranked last in a regional survey of starting pay last year.

The proposal, which will be voted on by police union membership Tuesday night, is one of the most generous in county labor history. Effective July 1, the proposed contract would give all officers a $3,500 raise -- an average raise of 9 percent -- to make their salaries more competitive, county and union officials said. In addition, it adds two "steps" -- points at which officers receive a 4.3 percent raise -- to the department's scale, which would mean substantial increases for younger officers and those approaching retirement.

"When we surveyed police officers, the No. 1 issue was wages. The No. 2 issue was retirement," Lt. L. Timothy Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, the officers' bargaining agent, said yesterday.

A survey of 18 police agencies in the mid-Atlantic region conducted by the Maryland State Police last year found that a starting officer in Baltimore County earned less than all the others.

"The problem is, for whatever reason, people were leaving," Caslin said. "Younger people were not staying. We felt the pay scale was a big part of it."

County officials agreed.

"It's very generous -- it's an earned raise," said Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who said the proposal was unprecedented in scope. "You have to be competitive, plus reward them for the job they're doing. They've done an excellent job -- the result is in the numbers. Crime is down."

Barrett said that if the proposal is approved by officers in Tuesday's vote, it will be included in Ruppersberger's budget, which will be submitted to the County Council on April 14.

Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, who helped convince the county that a significant raise was needed, said he was pleased.

"Obviously, the starting salary is crucial," Sheridan said. "It's a critical matter for officers to be paid for what they do -- it's a very difficult job. It's a good proposal -- it helps us in recruiting and retention."

Barrett said the tentative agreement on the proposal, which was announced at a Monday night FOP meeting attended by 500 members, was reached after about 2 1/2 weeks "of 14-hour days" at the bargaining table. The police officers' contract expires at the end of June.

Caslin said all members with fewer than eight years of service would get a "step" increase of 4.3 percent in the contract's first year, plus whatever other raises they qualify for in the pay schedule.

In the second year, all officers would get a 4 percent wage increase, and an additional "step" of 4.3 percent would be put into the pay schedule for members with more than eight years of service. In the third and fourth years, members would receive a 5 percent wage increase, as well as any of the scheduled "step" increases for which they are eligible.

In addition, Caslin said, a clause permits salary negotiations to be reopened in the third and fourth years of the contract if county officers' wages drop below the average of those paid to Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Howard counties and the Maryland State Police.

"If it drops below the average by even one dollar, we can reopen the contract," he said. "We definitely feel the county was very fair and did the right thing."

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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