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Town of Tonawanda police to pay for health insurance under new agreement

The Town of Tonawanda and its police officers have a new agreement and under its terms all officers will now be contributing to the cost of their health coverage.

“That was huge,” said Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger. “That’s one of the huge things that we drew the line in the sand on when we started negotiations years ago.”

The seven-year agreement between the town and Town of Tonawanda Police Club’s 100 members covers the period of Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2019.

An officer hired prior to when the last agreement was signed Jan. 10, 2011 will now contribute 5 percent toward their health care premium, up to $2,100. An officer hired after that date will continue paying 20 percent toward their premium for their first four years on the job, then 10 percent during the duration of their employment and into retirement.

It marks the first time all employees in one of the town’s bargaining units will pay toward their health care, Emminger said.

“There’s no free health care anymore,” he said.

The Police Club also agreed to switch to a different Blue Cross Blue Shield plan with higher co-payments. Savings for the town from the employee contributions and plan switch will total approximately $200,000 annually, Emminger said.

In return, officers got the long-term agreement they were looking for, said Police Club President Chris Kaiser.

“We’re happy to get it settled,” he said. “The huge thing was the length of the deal – that we don’t have to go back to negotiating right away.”

Both sides had failed to reach an agreement after numerous rounds of negotiations and the dispute in October went to binding interest arbitration for a third-party to resolve. But an arbitration award only covers two years, which would have resolved 2013 and 2014, Emminger said.

“The town and the Police Club decided we would take one more shot at getting this resolved to get a long-term agreement,” he said.

The agreement also includes salary raises of 17 percent spread over the seven years. The raises, which average 2.43 percent annually, are lower for past years to limit the amount the town will pay out retroactively, Emminger said.

Officers also agreed to start using the town’s Kronos timekeeping system and they can now earn six hours of compensatory time per month, instead of four hours, for not utilizing sick time in a month.

Both sides anticipate some retirements will result from the new agreement.

An officer hired before Jan. 10, 2011 who retires before Jan. 1, 2019 will not have to contribute toward their health care in retirement while the same officer who retires after that date will pay 5 percent. New state legislation also allows officers with military service to buy back up to three years of active military service toward their retirement.

The Police Club’s priority is that the town hire new officers to replace retirees and keep the department’s manpower at full strength, said Kaiser, who noted it can take 1½ years for a new hire to get on the road.

“You’re certainly going to see retirements,” he said. “You absolutely need to keep hiring timely. We cannot get behind the 8-ball and hire after the fact.”

The Police Club ratified the agreement this month “by an overwhelming majority,” Kaiser said. The Town Board approved the agreement Monday night.

“We’re very appreciative of the efforts of the Police Club and their negotiating team in getting this deal resolved,” Emminger said.