Buffalo's transit police force will receive paychecks almost 17 percent richer by next April, a raise one NFTA commissioner complained Monday is excessive.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board of commissioners Monday voted 10 to 1 to approve a contract with the transit police, calling for the two-year pact to be phased in by April 1.
It involves pay raises of 17 percent between April 1, 1988, and April 1, 1989, and brings the NFTA police force into line with most other police forces in the area, according to the authority's negotiators.
"The police force has gone from trainees in 1984 to four-year veterans," said Kenneth C. Kruly, the NFTA's general manager of administration. "As any group of employees matures, there are generally increases in contracts and wages that occur."
But Commissioner Ronald J. Anthony, an outspoken critic of the need for a transit police force from its inception, said he thinks the authority cannot afford such a jump for its 56 officers.
"I don't think we're in the position where we have the money to pay it," he said. "We can only go to the well so many times."
"We're talking about a disaster budget next year," he continued, "and the board of commissioners continues to spend money like they had a blank check. That's irresponsible."
Anthony contended that police officers who signed on with the authority at its 1984 creation knew they would be paid a relatively low $14,700 per year because of the NFTA's fiscal problems.
"There's been a 50 percent increase in salary in less than 3 1/2 years," he said. "I think we should provide a reasonable rate of pay, but we should also make sure we're solvent."
The raises follow substantial hikes of more than 29 percent for almost half the officers last year, Anthony said.
Kruly and Executive Director Alfred H. Savage both defended the pay hike, as did several other commissioners. Kruly explained the new pact brings the pay of transit police into line with that of airport police and firefighters and more into line with that of most police agencies.
"The salary of a police officer is similar to a high-level secretary's," he said. "It's not inappropriate to pay police what is called for in this contract."
Kruly acknowledged that the pay hike appears large over just 3 1/2 years, but again noted that the NFTA originally was dealing with an entire department of inexperienced, and therefore low-paid, transit police.
"We had a bargain and now the bargain has caught up with us," he said. "Now we have a fully developed pay scale."
The new agreement will result in a new minimum salary of $19,549 beginning on Oct. 1, rising to $20,331 on April 1.
The new maximums will be $25,656 on Oct. 1 and $27,908 on April 1. That compares with a minimum police salary of $18,900 and a maximum of $25,553 in Buffalo; a minimum of $20,163 and a maximum of $29,001 in Amherst, and a minimum of $22,907 and maximum of $24,180 in Niagara Falls.