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January 18. 2012 12:20AM

City, police unions agree on concessions

MANCHESTER — City Police unions and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have reached an agreement on health benefit concessions the city hopes will not only preserve police staffing, but motivate other unions to come to the table.

The aldermen met in a non-public meeting Tuesday to discuss the proposal crafted with the Manchester Police Supervisors and the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association. When the aldermen reconvened, the board voted unanimously to accept the agreement. The board did not, however, agree to ratify the contract, which extends until 2015. Board rules require the contract lay over a week; the board will ratify it in February.

The deal requires officers to pay more for their health insurance premiums and doctor visits, but the savings will allow the city to keep 20 police officers slated for layoffs, as well as 15 grant-funded officers whose funding is scheduled to end. Plus, the city can hire another seven police officers. This would put the city’s police complement at 217 officers.

The two police unions said they would wait to comment because the contract is not fully ratified, but Police Chief David Mara commended the officers and supervisors.

“I am very proud of the way the patrolmen and supervisors stepped forward. They saw the city had a problem, they knew the city had staffing issues and wanted to do their part,” said Mara.

The aldermen and Mayor Ted Gatsas also thanked the unions.

“I applaud police coming forward and their dedicated work to the city of Manchester to make this happen,” said Gatsas.

“Thank you for being the first ones and showing the leadership in coming forward and putting the city of Manchester and safety of the city first,” said Alderman Russ Ouellette. “I hope other unions read this message loud and clear of what we expect from them.”

The current police unions’ contracts were set to expire in 2013, but this new agreement extends to 2015. It also includes a 1 percent cost-of-living raise in 2014 and 2015.

The officers and police supervisors in return must pay 12.5 percent of their health care premiums in 2013, 15 percent in 2014 and 20 percent in 2015. Co-payments for doctor visits are raised to $20 and deductibles, emergency room visits and other fees will go up as well.

All new hires to these unions will immediately have to pay the 20 percent premium and the increased fees.

If all other city unions agree to the same deal, the city estimates it can save $3.8 million next year. If the unions in the Manchester School District also agreed to these terms, the savings could be an additional $4 million, Gatsas said.

According to city budget data, the city is facing a $5.8 million shortfall next budget year. Under the tax cap, the city can increase next year’s budget up to $2.5 million.

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