Robey rules on police raises

Delayed salary increases to cover four pay periods

`No additional movement'

Police union claims it was misled by executive

Howard County

June 14, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After months of sometimes acrimonious wrangling over a delayed pay increase, Howard's police union got a final "no" from County Executive James N. Robey, a former county police chief who was accused of lying by union members.

"There's no additional movement," county Human Resources Director Robert S. Lazarewicz said Friday. The only thing left to decide, he said, is whether Robey will issue an executive order imposing a contract, and whether it would be the pre- or post-arbitration version.

The police won several added benefits after their contract went to nonbinding arbitration in late March.

"I was mad," Robey said Friday, referring to a demonstration at his budget speech April 19 when about 75 officers displayed a huge truck-mounted sign and T-shirts that said: "Mr. Robey: Integrity should not have expired with your badge."

Despite the demonstration, he said, he did not want to punish rank-and-file officers for what he felt were poor leadership decisions, and he continued talking to union officials.

Police union President James F. Fitzgerald has insisted that Robey promised to give the 275 officers a 2 percent increase retroactive to the start of the current fiscal year - if the state made no more budget cuts. Robey has denied that, and is paying all county employees, except teachers, that 2 percent for only the final four pay periods.

All county employees got an initial 2 percent raise July 1. Teachers had a separate contract with the school board for the entire 4 percent.

Fitzgerald's said his latest proposal, delivered during a meeting with Robey on Tuesday, was to delay hiring 10 new officers for a few months and use the savings to pay the retroactive increase.

Robey rejected that idea.

"I'm not going to do that," he said. "He [Fitzgerald] was at my door one year ago" asking that more officers be hired to relieve stress on the force.

"You can't have it both ways," Lazarewicz said.

The police union contract is the only county labor agreement that has not been settled, even as nearly every eligible officer - including Chief Wayne Livesay - signed up to take advantage of the latest Robey-sponsored benefit, a deferred pension plan for veteran officers.

Fitzgerald said 17 of the 19 eligible officers signed up to participate after the new program took effect May 1, and several more will become eligible in October. After that, he said, it might be two years before anyone on the force has the required 25 years of minimum service to qualify.

Under the program, which is not expected to cost the county additional money, senior officers who might otherwise retire can choose to stay on the job for three or four more years. Their pensions would be frozen at 25 years, but the amount would accrue and be paid as a lump sum when they retire.

Fitzgerald said he's had members approach him who are in their mid-40s and close to the 25-year mark who have decided to stay and use the program to build up a cash lump sum for children's college expenses.

The union president, a 30-year veteran, said he, too, has signed up, noting that while it is not as generous a program as other jurisdictions have adopted "it is an improved benefit."

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