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City police vote to reject contract

August 19, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown City Police officers voted 48-0 on Tuesday to reject a three-year contract offer from the City of Hagerstown, police union officials said.

"It was rejected basically because we didn't feel that was the best the city could do for us," said Dave Long, an executive board member for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373.

Of the union's 62 members, 48 attended the brief voting meeting at the union hall on the corner of Bethel and North Potomac streets. Nine officers were working and were not allowed to vote by proxy, said Long, who is not a member of the union's negotiating team.

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"I'm disappointed it was voted down, but I'm confident we can still come to terms fairly soon," said Eric Marburger, the city's personnel manager and a member of the city's negotiating team.

Marburger said he hopes to begin negotiations again next week. Talks are not expected to resume this week because City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, a member of the negotiating team, is on vacation this week.

City Finance Director Al Martin, also a member of the city's negotiating team, had no comment.

The sticking points remained the same - pension and wages.

"If you look at the comparisons that we have done, we're way behind everybody else in salary," Long said.

Hagerstown police officers should have salaries comparable to officers in other areas or the city won't be able to attract good applicants and could lose trained officers, he said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said union members' wage concerns were legitimate and that City Council members would taken another look at the wage issue.

"I think we need to get qualified people and keep qualified people," Bruchey said.

Officers also want the right to retire with full pension benefits after 25 years of service. They now must put in at least 30 years.

A change in the pension plan was not included in the city's proposed contract, according to union officials.

Long said pension benefits might become a separate issue from the contract.

Patrolman Joey Kifer, the union's vice president, said union members want a stipulation in the contract that will reopen the pension issue in one year.

That will give state legislators time to discuss pension enhancements for all state employees during next year's General Assembly session, Kifer said.

Bruchey said the stipulation to reopen pension discussions in one year should be written into the contract.

Bruchey said city officials want to be involved in the discussions about pension enhancements. The enhancements are expected to cost the city about $200,000 more per year, he said.

The enhancements also would raise benefits from an average of 30 percent of employees' salaries to 45 percent, city officials said.

Several officers suffered a bout of the "blue flu" during the midnight and day shifts on Saturday, Police Chief Dale Jones has said.

Patrolman S.R. Cromer had said the sickout was staged because the members were being treated poorly in contract negotiations.

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