City officials, police reach agreement on pay raise

Tentative contract aimed at helping department recruit, retain officers

Annapolis

April 24, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Hoping to boost their chances of recruiting and retaining officers in the Annapolis Police Department, city officials have agreed to a contract that would raise salaries and improve benefits for the officers.

Announced yesterday, the tentative agreement between the city and the union representing Annapolis police would guarantee a raise of at least $3,500 per year for every officer, on top of a 2 percent cost of living raise. The contract would put the starting salary for officers at $35,000 - on par with the pay offered by Anne Arundel County.

The contract also calls for the city to pay 80 percent of officers' medical coverage after retirement until they are eligible for Medicare. After that, the city will pay for 80 percent of supplemental health coverage. The city does not currently pay for these benefits.

The agreement "allows the city of Annapolis to be highly competitive in recruiting new officers," said police Chief Joseph S. Johnson, who joined the force 11 years ago.

The contract was approved last week in a 56-4 vote by members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, the union that represents city police officers. The agreement still must be approved by the city council, which will vote on it this spring as part of its approval of the fiscal 2003 budget.

Johnson said yesterday that staffing shortages at the Police Department have become "very critical" in the past five years. Only 106 of the department's 128 authorized officer positions are now filled.

Johnson said trained officers are being lured away by other police agencies that offer better benefits or pay. And, when the department advertises for new officers, it has found a lack of qualified candidates. In a field of 120 to 130 applicants, Johnson said, the department is lucky to find three who are qualified.

"We have very high standards," Johnson said. The contract "will allow us to maintain those standards while filling our ranks."

Officer John Lee, a shop steward with the union, called the contract a "major step" toward having a competitive package to offer potential officers.

He said the union hopes to work out a change in the pension system, which the city has agreed to study. The city offers retirement to officers after 25 years, while officers in some other jurisdictions are eligible after 20 years.

"At this point, we couldn't expect anything more," Lee said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who pledged to improve police retirement benefits in her campaign last year, said the critical shortage of officers convinced her that the city should invest in better pay and benefits for police.

Beginning in fiscal year 2004, the first full year of the program, Moyer estimated the improved benefits and salaries would cost the city about $1 million a year.

Johnson called the contract "a bold move" by the small city because of the costs involved, but said it is well worth it.

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