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RAISES FOR VILLAGE POLICE TOTAL 13.25% OVER 4 YEARS

Police officers and lieutenants will receive 3.25 percent yearly pay raises for three years of a four-year contract and 3.5 percent in the final year under a new agreement with the Village of Hamburg.

The contract with the Hamburg Police Benevolent Association was approved by the Village Board Monday night but is not yet officially signed by both sides. The terms were disclosed Wednesday. The contract is retroactive to June 1, 1996, and runs through May 31, 2000.

"Some may say it is a time of downsizing. The board calls it more appropriately, rightsizing," Mayor John S. Thomas said in a news release issued Wednesday. "Things are now more in perspective. We're still in the police business, and the Village of Hamburg, its employees and residents are the winners."

The contract, which covers 13 officers, including two lieutenants, provides for the use of part-time officers in exchange for a guarantee from the village that a force of 12-full-time officers will be maintained. Both of those stipulations, however, are covered under a sunset clause that ends a few days before the contract expires. After one year of employment, a typical salary for an officer would be about $40,000, and after two years, about $44,500, village officials said.

A majority of the police union last week voted in favor of the agreement. Union president Glenn Morlock on Wednesday declined to specify what the actual vote was but noted that it was not unanimous.

"We felt it was the best we could accomplish through negotiations," Morlock said. "Overall, the good points outweighed the bad."

He noted that the part-time officer issue would not be the union's preference but that, in exchange for agreeing to that, officers were assured job security and a guaranteed staffing level.

"We're trying to protect the jobs of the officers who are still in the department. This was reassuring," Morlock said.

Just a year ago, the village tried to eliminate its police force in favor of contracting for police protection with the Town of Hamburg Police Department. The issue sparked heated public debate and led to a public referendum resulting in the retention of the village Police Department, which has worked without a contract for more than a year.

One sticking point, though, is the current policy of having a minimum of two officers working each shift. Morlock said the village told him it intends to continue that practice but would not agree to sign to that.

Village Administrator David W. Fountaine said the union recognized the need to limit tax increases and greatly helped the village by agreeing to the health care and part-time officer issues.

"The village responded in kind by agreeing to a full-time police officer staffing level that provides the manpower levels the union was seeking," Fountaine said. "Twelve is a good number of what we plan on getting on the streets . . . to maintain the Police Department."

The agreement for part-time officers to fill gaps in the work schedule will drastically reduce the amount of overtime accrued, Fountaine said. "It's a significant change to the way we do business here," he said.

The contract also calls for an employee choice of one of three health maintenance organizations. Currently, just one officer is using Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and the switch to an HMO will amount to a $3,000 savings.

The other officers will be changing to Independent Health's silver plan from its gold plan -- representing another $8,000 per year in savings, Fountaine said.

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