Howard County and police union officials have ended a contract impasse with an agreement that brings officers a step closer to receiving one of the biggest pay increases in recent memory.
Both sides had anticipated the impasse would last about two months because of arbitration, but said they wanted to end it earlier to be able to hire 13 officers from other jurisdictions. The department is in tough competition with other regional police agencies -- some of which have raised their officers' pay -- and would not advertise the positions until a salary structure was finalized.
"The longer my guys are out there short-handed, the more dangerous it is for them," said Cpl. John Paparazzo, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association.
Union and county representatives reached a tentative agreement April 9, but could not agree on the specifics of pay increases and other items, leading to last week's impasse declaration. The contract -- which expires June 30 -- will be extended until the new agreement is signed by both sides and approved by the County Council.
To end the impasse, negotiators on Friday added a clause providing for re-examination of the Police Department's retirement package in the second year of the three-year contract. Both sides had agreed to an average 15 percent raise in the first year and at least 3 percent and 4 percent raises in the second and third years.
"The agreement is to open the discussion for retirement," said Cecil E. Bray, Howard County deputy chief administrative officer. "It's just an agreement to talk."
Union leaders plan to present the deal to members for a vote tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, Paparazzo said. The union represents the 250 of the county's 313 officers who are not considered supervisors.
In the current contract, police officers retiring after 20 years received 39 percent of their salary; after 25 years, 57.5 percent; and after 30 years, 65 percent.
Under the new agreement, preliminary discussions will begin in December, and union members say they will ask that those percentages be increased to 50 percent, 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
"We have a lot of members in the latter part of their careers," Paparazzo said. "There needed to be something to enhance their life."
County officials said they recognize the importance of retirement packages to recruit and keep officers, but said it is an expensive investment for the county. They estimate the union's proposal for 20-year retirees would cost the county about $45 million over a 30-year period, Bray said.
"We've known all along that retirement is very important. We just have to wait and see what the money issue is," Bray said. "It's a tremendous commitment to agree to talk about retirement."
A growing demand for police officers regionally has led to several enticing contracts. In March, Baltimore County and state police increased their starting salary to just over $30,000. Anne Arundel County increased its starting salary to $28,000. Union officials argued that Howard police salaries ranked last compared with six other local departments.
Paparazzo said the union's goal was to keep the department ranked third, behind Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The proposed contract includes a restructured pay scale that is capped at 12 years instead of 19, with starting salary increased from $27,082 to $30,156. Each step increase will mean a 3.5 percent increase vs. 2.5 percent now. Those changes mean officers would see raises between 12 percent and 17 percent in the first year.
In the second year, officers would receive a 3 percent raise or a cost-of-living increase, whichever is higher. If that raise is not enough to keep the county competitive with area police departments, officials will reopen negotiations. The same agreement would apply in the third year, when officers would receive a 4 percent raise.
Supervisors -- sergeants, lieutenants and captains -- will receive raises next year averaging 12 percent, Bray said. Their pay is not negotiated through a union.
Pub Date: 6/07/99