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Police contract negotiations broken off

Contract talks between Depew officials and the Police Benevolent Association have broken off after nearly 1 1/2 years of negotiations.

Mayor Joseph C. McIntosh said disagreement over the village's attempt to get police officers to pick up part of the cost for their health insurance brought talks to a standstill, resulting in the mayor's declaring an impasse Friday. The next step will be for the parties to meet with a mediator before talks resume.

"We're looking for the officers to share in premium costs, because [the village's] costs are significant," McIntosh said after Monday's Village Board meeting.

"In the past few years, we've seen an average 15 percent-a-year increase in health insurance costs. It's a killer for us; it's a cost we have no control over," he added.

Attorney Paul D. Weiss, a spokesman for the Depew PBA, Wednesday laid blame for the impasse squarely on the shoulders of the village negotiating team.

"If there was no movement, it was precipitated by the village backsliding by making a proposal that was less than what was on the table previously," said Weiss. "We're still willing to talk."

Still, Weiss said, he is unaware of any local police department where officers are required to pay a share of their health insurance.

"What did police officers give up to make sure they had fully paid health care? Salary, and you don't get that back," he said.

The average base salary for a patrolman in the village is $52,142 a year, according to Village Clerk Robert Kuce-wicz. There are 29 officers in the department, including the chief. One police officer position was cut from the budget this year following a retirement.

Lurking in the background of negotiations between the village and the police union are fears that the department may eventually be abolished or merged with the Cheektowaga and Lancaster police departments.

Erie County has been conducting a study on the feasibility of consolidation. The PBA has been seeking to have input in that unreleased study but has been rebuffed, said Weiss.

He said negotiations on a new police contract turned sour after the union conducted an informational campaign during the National Night Out event in the village this summer. Weiss said that shortly afterward, on Aug. 5, McIntosh sent a memo to the PBA's chief negotiator, Frank Fusani, stating that McIntosh felt negotiations had reached an impasse.

McIntosh on Monday said the consolidation study is totally unrelated to contract negotiations, which just before the impasse focused on the village's proposal to get officers to share in the cost of their health insurance.

"We see this as an opportunity to get our police officers in step with what the rest of our citizens pay for their health insurance. The people who pay the bills, on average, pay 26 percent of those costs," said McIntosh.

Depew police have been working without a contract since May 31, 2004.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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