GARDINER — City Council at its meeting Wednesday night approved a new police union contract that doesn’t include a pay raise in its first year, but leaves the door open for raises in the second and third years of the contract.
The three-year contract, largely similar to the current contract, was agreed upon by the city and the Gardiner Police Officers Association after only one day of negotiations, according City Manager Scott Morelli, which he said is extremely rare.
Morelli said both sides understand the financial difficulties the city is facing in the upcoming budget with a shortfall of more than $500,000 expected.
Detective Michael Durham, the union steward, said both sides are pleased overall with the contract. The members of the union had a mutual understanding that they wouldn’t ask for a wage increase because of the deficit, he said.
The contract, which goes into effect July 1, includes wage negotiations for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.
“If the finances are better than this year, then hopefully we can negotiate some sort of increase,” Durham said.
The last contract included 2 percent wage increases for each of the three years, according to Morelli.
The only other changes to the contract involve paid time off protocol and overtime for special events, Morelli said. The new contract states that no more than two patrol officers can take any type of leave at the same time. Previously it was just vacation time, Morelli said.
The new contract also clarifies that police officers will be paid their overtime rates if those rates are higher than the base rate for covering special events.
In other action, city councilors also approved the city to act as the administrator for the forgivable loan portion of a downtown business incentive program, and approved the hiring of Dan Guimond, a former Augusta battalion chief, as interim fire chief. Guimond will begin March 28 after Fire Chief Mike Minkoswky steps down.
The economic program, Gardiner Growth Initiative, is a collaborative project between the city, Gardiner Main Street, the Gardiner Board of Trade and The Bank of Maine.
It will offer incentives such as forgivable loans for infrastructure costs, free rent for long-term leases and micro-grants for working capital to businesses looking to open a new location in downtown Gardiner or to existing businesses to expand their footprints.
The city won’t incur any direct costs from administering the program, according to Morelli.
Public Works Director Tony LaPlante presented a preliminary plan to use herbicides to kill weeds on major city sidewalks, but several councilor members took firm positions against the proposal.
“The number of instances of serious health concerns of these chemicals is growing, and I just urge huge caution in the large application of this,” said Councilor Logan Johnston, an owner of Oaklands Farm in Gardiner.
Other councilors, including Mayor Thomas Harnett, Philip Hart and William Barron, voiced concerns about the proposal. Council instructed city staff to look into all options for weed control on city sidewalks.
Johnston said he thinks councilors should decide from a policy standpoint whether they want the city to use chemical herbicide to control weeds and let city staff decide how to proceed.
Councilors also approved city staff to move forward with two ordinance and land use changes included in the comprehensive draft — allowing for the reuse of larger, old buildings and the creation of a mixed-use zone on Brunswick Avenue — before the plan is approved.
The city held a public meeting last week to give people a chance to comment on the draft of the plan. Once it is approved by councilors, the comprehensive plan will be used by city officials when deciding whether to make changes to zoning or other planning and development issues.
Council isn’t expected to review the plan until at least May, so councilors gave the go-ahead for city staff to begin developing changes to allow for the reuse of larger, old buildings and the creation of a mixed-use zone on Brunswick Avenue.
Councilor Patricia Hart, also chairwoman of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, said there will still be plenty of time for public input for both changes. Ordinance changes for land use must be approved by the Ordinance Review Committee and Planning Board before reaching council, which Morelli said will still take a couple of months.
The changes could allow some people waiting for updates to the city’s land use laws, including a hard cider brewery looking to locate in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street, to move forward with plans sooner.