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Police eyeing free cash windfall; Union seeks contract deal.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

FITCHBURG - The Police Department is losing officers to neighboring departments and its union is asking the City Council to hold off on allocating the bulk of its newly minted free cash to the city's rainy day fund.

Instead, the union wants the money used to settle its long-simmering contract dispute.

In a letter sent to the council and copied to local media, Fitchburg Police Union President Ron L'Ecuyer said several officers are leaving the department for other municipalities, where settled contracts translate into significantly higher salaries.

Base pay for patrolmen in Fitchburg is $9,000 less than in Leominster, Officer L'Ecuyer wrote, while patrolmen at the top step of the wage scale in Fitchburg are about $8,000 behind their counterparts in Leominster.

"Currently, five officers have transferred, four to Leominster and one to Framingham," Officer L'Ecuyer wrote. "Two more officers are a stroke of the pen away from transferring to Leominster, and two more are awaiting word of additional vacancies there. If all are successful, we will have lost nine officers. This adds up to over a 10 percent loss from our department to lateral transfers."

Not all of the transfers are young officers, he said, adding that one officer "on the verge of leaving" has been in Fitchburg over 15 years.

"In this officer alone, the city is potentially losing an investment of almost $1 million," Officer L'Ecuyer wrote.

"These officers are leaving for several reasons," the letter continues. "For example, more compensation, job security and a positive outlook for future cost of living increases. If we do not stop this trend, we are clearly going to lose more of our investment. The last thing this city needs is a revolving door of young officers, coming here for training and experience and moving on to other more prosperous communities."

The union membership is asking councilors to hold off on directing any of the city's free cash until members have the chance to ask for a "reasonable" cost of living increase, the letter says.

Last week, the city's free cash was certified at $1.29 million by the state Department of Revenue. The money represents surplus receipts over expenses once the books on fiscal 2008 were closed.

Mayor Lisa A. Wong has already petitioned the City Council to put $600,000 of the free cash into the city's stabilization account, sometimes referred to as a rainy day fund. She said in an interview last week she wanted see some of the free cash set aside for anticipated increases in energy costs and the remainder used to help settle outstanding contracts.

The issue is expected to be referred to the Finance Committee when the council meets tomorrow

night.

The union letter notes the importance of the city having a stabilization fund, but also argues in favor of offering reasonable cost of living increases to its public safety officers.

Council President Thomas J. Conry Jr. said he would be in favor of holding off on the stabilization fund allocation to get the police contract settled.

"I am very concerned about veteran police officers leaving Fitchburg to take jobs in other communities," Mr. Conry said yesterday. "I understand there's a morale problem in the department and one can only assume that a lot of it is due to them not having a contract in three years."

While the mayor has said she would want to see the most outdated contracts settled first, Mr. Conry said he wants to see the police moved to the head of the line.

"We've got to stop the bleeding," Mr. Conry said. "I would recommend the mayor and the negotiating team hop on this ASAP."

Councilor Stephan Hay, chairman of the Finance Committee, said putting money into the city's stabilization account is a wise move but also said he wanted to see the city resolve some of its outstanding contractual issues.

NAME: FITCHBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT; FITCHBURG CITY COUNCIL
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 17, 2008
Words:654
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