WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 4-2 Tuesday to table until Jan. 3 a decision about whether to increase police patrol and commanding officer pay, saying they needed more clarity about what those increases would mean for both the tax rate and the financial sustainability for police pay.

Councilors were asked to approve memos of understanding between the city and the National Fraternal Order of Police to revisit current union contracts for 25 patrol officers and six commanding officers and give them a $3 hourly raise Jan. 1 and then another $3 increase July 1.

City officials and police have been concerned about morale in the Police Department and the need to retain and recruit officers because the pay scale was not high enough. The Waterville pay scale is lower than that for police in Winslow, a town with a population roughly half that of Waterville.

“I think it’s important to be honest with ourselves,” Mayor Jay Coelho said. “Our police officers in this city are woefully underpaid.”

A new officer with the Waterville force makes about $53,200 a year, based on a 42-hour work week. A patrol officer with several years of experience earns about $63,700.

All councilors Tuesday night said they respect and value city police but they needed detailed information about the proposed raises. Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said he and other councilors were notified only Friday of the contract terms and they didn’t have enough time to scrutinize the numbers.


Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, said he believes in competitive wages for police in order to get dependable, trustworthy officers, but councilors have a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers and he was not sure if the proposed raises were financially sustainable in the future. Taking the time to study it seems the responsible move, he said.

Francke, who served on the negotiating committee, said the top wage in the memo of understanding for commanding officers is $45.80 per hour for a sergeant, which is higher than that for department heads, including the city clerk, public works director, human resources director and deputy police chief.

“I just think that this is something that needs to be negotiated with the police union,” he said.

City Manager Steve Daly said the projected cost for police pay raises for next year is $337,000, which would add 45 cents per $1,000 to the tax rate, but the plan is to have no tax increase. Officials will find ways to cover the cost, including by using revenues, which are expected to increase, and cutting other costs, he said.

“I believe that we’re going to be able to afford this,” Daly said.

He said when Francke referred to the top paid sergeant making more than the deputy police chief, one must keep in mind that the deputy chief’s pay is $89,000 to $110,000. The sergeant has been on the job seven years and his salary would be $95,000 with the increase, he said.


“Yes, we’d be paying them more than our department heads, but this is one person he’s making reference to,” Daly said.

Councilor Brandon Gilley, D-Ward 1, said the city deserves to have a qualified, motivated and passionate Police Department and he didn’t see the benefit of tabling the vote.

“Waterville’s growing. It’s getting bigger, it’s getting better and Waterville police need that support as well,” he said.

Councilor Tom McCormick, an independent who represents Ward 7, also favored approving the raises, but Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, seconded a motion by Francke to table voting until Jan. 3.

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said she thinks everyone knows the city’s police force is hard-working with a lot of demands placed on it.

“But we also embarked on a study of the Police Department at a cost of $40,000 that’s just underway, so I really think it’s premature to make a commitment like this before the study comes out,” she said.


She said she was proceeding with caution and believes councilors need new information.

“If we vote tonight, I think that we are rushing into something that is a very complex decision, particularly when we have a lot of expenses that we need to cover,” she said.

Interim police Chief Bill Bonney said police responded to nearly 32,000 calls this year. The department is down eight officers and officers are tired, he said. When word of a possible pay hike began circulating among officers, it had an instant impact on morale, he said.

In other matters Tuesday, the council approved a contract with public works and parks and recreation employees that would reflect a new pay scale based on the 60th percentile data collected in a salary study. All the employees would receive a minimum increase in pay of 2%, which was the same amount for nonunion employees, according to Daly.

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