WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro on Wednesday vetoed the City Council’s Tuesday night approval of collective bargaining agreements between the city and the city’s Maine Association of Police commanding officer and patrol officers units.

Isgro’s veto message says that while the city should be proud to offer police competitive wages and benefits, city officials should question annual stipends for longevity and those based on education levels. If pay bands — minimum and maximum pay rates for jobs — are placed appropriately, additional stipends should not be necessary, according to Isgro.

Councilors contacted yesterday after Isgro issued the veto message were surprised by the move, but they said they realize Isgro is sending a message. In order to override Isgro’s veto, at least five of the seven councilors must approve the bargaining agreement resolutions.

The three-year police contracts the council approved unanimously Tuesday include a 2 percent pay increase starting July 1 this year, a 2 percent increase for next year and a 2.5 percent increase for the following year. Isgro contends many employees getting stipends could get a lot more money than what is represented in the 2 percent increase, but that extra amount of pay is not publicized.

“Although the steps are based on merit, does it not make sense to either choose between broad based pay increases or merit, not give both?” the veto message says.

In the wake of the veto, which Isgro issued shortly after 4 p.m., councilors will reconsider approving the police collective bargaining agreements at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 7, unless the council schedules a special meeting between now and then, according to City Clerk Patti Dubois.

Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said Wednesday that she plans to approve the contract resolutions. After learning of the veto, Bushee called Isgro to discuss it, she said.

“I’m a little shocked because it was a unanimous vote last night, and I hadn’t heard any discussion surrounding this since it has been on the agenda and since we got it in our packet,” Bushee said. “However, I have talked to Nick, and I think he’s using the veto as a way for us to talk a little bit more strongly about how contracts are done within the city.”

Bushee said she agrees the council should discuss contracts and it is an important discussion to have, but a veto is not necessarily the way to prompt such a discussion.

“I wish it would have been discussed last night,” she said. “If he (Isgro) had an issue with it, I wish that he had brought it up and had an open discussion, because the police chief was there last night.”

Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said Wednesday that Isgro is concerned about the raises the city and schools have been issuing in tough economic times, and his veto is to show how unhappy he is with those raises.

Stubbert said he also is concerned about giving such raises in tough economic times.

“The reason this veto will be overturned is, we discussed this in executive session during the contract and we gave the city manager and city attorney authority to give those raises,” Stubbert said. “The mayor was in the executive session. This veto is to make a point.”

Stubbert said he plans to vote to overturn the veto.

“I think he’s doing this to make a point, and that’s fine. I don’t have any problem with that,” Stubbert said.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he is leaning toward supporting Isgro’s veto. He said he is all for giving merit raises, but they should not be given in addition to broad-based pay increases, unless each is scaled back.

The city hasn’t been receiving the amount of revenue it has in the past, and Isgro is digging deeper and looking further in each department to research costs, according to Mayhew.

“We just have to be realistic about not just the Police Department, but all the departments,” he said.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said she thinks Isgro is right in that the union contracts should be revisited. Those contracts also should be available both in print and online for residents to read and comment on, she added.

“I think the council should be mandated to read the contracts and not to rely solely on the recommendations of management, and I think in the past we have relied heavily on that,” she said.

Asked how she plans to vote on reconsideration of the contracts, Rancourt-Thomas said she does not know.

“Now that Nick has brought this to light, and I’m glad he did, I have to think about it,” she said.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said late Wednesday afternoon that he was not aware Isgro had vetoed the resolutions. After reading Isgro’s memo, however, Massey said he appreciates his effort to be diligent with the city’s finances.

“However, some of the items that he mentions should be looked at, such as longevity steps, educational steps and step increases, have been in the last three or four contracts that have been negotiated,” Massey said.

The collective bargaining agreement for the commanding officers unit says that in addition to receiving the step increases, annual longevity stipends will be awarded in the amounts of $1,300 after 10 years of service, $1,800 after 15 years of service and $2,300 after 20 years of service.

Employees who hold associate degrees from accredited institutions of higher learning will receive an annual $500 stipend, those with bachelor’s degrees get an $800 stipend, and those with master’s degrees will receive an annual $1,050 stipend.

Isgro said Wednesday that he has nothing but the utmost respect for all city employees, and he believes they should be rewarded for the good work they do.

“That said, it’s time we shine some light on this process and look to create contracts that recognize the value of an individual over person-less positions through accurate wage bands instead of relying on gimmicks to achieve what has been determined to be fair pay,” he said.

He added that he thinks the public needs to be represented by better council involvement and understanding of contracts into which the city enters.

“That’s going to take a bit of shaking up the way we’ve always done things,” he said. “The end goal is to treat our employees fairly but also to build public trust and support in what has been for a long time a somewhat mysterious process.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Isgro asked councilors whether they had read the police collective bargaining agreements, each of which is about 40 pages long. Bushee was the only councilor who responded, although it is not clear whether the other six councilors heard his question. Bushee told Isgro she had scanned the agreements.

Meanwhile, his veto says that the city has a long and proud history of working with employees to provide competitive and fair contracts and wages, and likewise the Police Department has its own proud history of serving the community in an exemplary manner.

It says he understands that neither the majority nor even a few councilors had read the details of the collective bargaining agreements, and while he places no fault or blame for what has likely been standard procedure for negotiations in the past, he thinks residents and the city could be served best by a greater representation at the negotiating table for the money that they are investing in school and city unions.

“Unless unionized employees agree to a public process, the only recourse then is to ensure that all elected representatives of the people have read in detail the contracts that they are agreeing to.”

Isgro also asks whether the city can afford “such broad spectrum pay increases.”

The city payroll has increased by $783,000 in the last five years, and that does not include school contracts, to which 11 nonunion administrator contracts are tied, according to Isgro’s veto. Of that payroll increase, $304,000, or 39 percent, of the increase has been in police-related pay increases, it says.

“If the city’s financial state of affairs and tolerance for tax increases hits a breaking point while we are tied to a 3-year contract as it is, we must ask, ‘Do we need to have layoffs?’ In such a case nobody wins — not the city, not the Police Department, and most of all, not the citizens who rely on the great service that they provide. There is no doubt that our employees deserve pay raises to be rewarded for the good work that they do. This veto is my attempt to shine light on a process that to many — including those who represent the public — remains shrouded in mystery and is voted upon without full understanding.”

Isgro asked that the council, City Manager Michael Roy and City Solicitor William Lee take a “second and thorough look” at the contract details to make sure they are understood “and the outcome is tenable for both our employees as well as the well-being of the city.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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