Howard police reach tentative agreement

Officers are scheduled to vote on pact in 2 weeks

April 06, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Last year, Howard County police hired a truck-mounted billboard and wore message T-shirts to charge that County Executive James N. Robey broke his pay promises to them.

This year, they're the first general government county union to tentatively agree to a contract.

"I'm satisfied as long as the troops are satisfied," said James F. Fitzgerald, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association, Local No. 86, AFL-CIO. A ratification vote among the county's 370 officers is scheduled in two weeks.

Robey, a former police chief and career officer, said he has agreed to raise the starting police pay of $37,003 by 4 percent, while giving all other officers a 3 percent increase. He also agreed to pay them for an average of two hours of required weekly overtime, because of the 12-hour shifts they work.

"This will keep us between third and fourth in the entire state" for police pay, Robey said.

Fitzgerald said he wasn't so sure about the statewide ranking, since Prince George's County police officers are negotiating a contract, and he wanted to study specific proposed pay scales for Howard officers before commenting in detail.

"It is a satisfactory deal," Fitzgerald said.

The county's 4,000 teachers have agreed to a two-year pact with the school board, with a 3 percent raise the first year and 3.5 percent the second. That deal must be ratified by teachers and approved by the executive and County Council.

Robey said that although no agreements have been reached with other unions, pay raises likely will be about the same.

"It's going to be in that range, yes," he said.

Firefighters union President Rich L. Ruehl said his union hasn't begun talks, even though Robey's proposed budget for next year is to be announced April 18.

"We're nervous" about waiting so long to begin talks, he said, but the delay has given the union more time to prepare.

Last year, the police union hired a truck and made T-shirts reading, "Mr. Robey, Integrity should not have retired with your job." The officers displayed the truck and filled the County Council chamber as Robey appeared to present his budget to the council.

The officers were angry because they said Robey had promised them a 4 percent increase for fiscal 2004, but they got 2 percent on July 1, 2003, and had to wait until May 2004 to get the other 2 percent.

Robey denied any breach of trust, insisting that he had to wait until he was sure about potential state budget cuts and the county's revenues before making a move.

Last year, "a lot of guys felt like he turned his back and this year he was right up front," Fitzgerald said.

For the current fiscal year, Robey gave general county workers a 2 percent increase starting July 1, 2004, and added 1 percent more to start on the final day of the year, June 30, 2005.

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