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City officials divided over police raises

August 21, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

A majority of Hagerstown's elected officials said Wednesday they would be willing to discuss pension benefits separately from the contract officials are trying to negotiate for city police officers.

But opinion was split on whether the officers deserved a better wage offer than the proposal that members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373 rejected in a 48-0 vote on Tuesday.

"I am very sympathetic to the police. In my opinion, they're thoroughly undercompensated," said City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, a local defense attorney.

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Union officials had said after the vote that the wage offer wasn't high enough compared to wages paid by other area law enforcement agencies.

They also wanted the contract to provide for negotiations to be reopened in a year to provide for pension benefits talks. The pension issue was not included in the city's proposed three-year contract.

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

"Not only do we not have a 25-year pension, but the benefits we have are lousy," Metzner said.

City officials are lobbying state officials to allow municipal employees who participate in the state's pension program to be included in proposed pension benefit enhancements, said Eric Marburger, the city's personnel manager.

Under current plans, the state's proposed pension enhancements would affect only state employees and teachers, he said.

"I support a 25-year pension if it all can be affordable at any time," Metzner said.

To compensate for the lack of a 25-year pension plan, Metzner wants to increase salaries for patrol officers. Those increases could include a higher pay scale for officers with bachelor's degrees, he said.

The top salary for patrol officers currently is $33,090, Marburger said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said there is room to negotiate wage increases.

But Council members Alfred W. Boyer and J. Wallace McClure said the city's wage offer was comparable to wages paid by other agencies.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said she supported the wage increase offered by the city and rejected by the union.

Councilman William M. Breichner would not comment on the wage issue because of negotiations.

Bruchey said he thinks a 25-year pension plan would cost taxpayers more than $36 more a year per taxpayer. While willing to discuss a 25-year plan, Bruchey said switching to 25 years now is out of the question because of the high cost.

McClure said he would support a 25-year plan if a cost-effective means of financing it could be found.

Saum-Wicklein said she would listen to any discussions the city administrator wanted concerning pension benefits, but was adamant that pension benefits be fair and equitable for all city employees.

By state law only police and fire employees are eligible for a 25-year pension program, Marburger said.

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