2008-01-04 / Front Page

Healthcare, staffing savings offset town contract increase

By Tom Shevlin

After recently completing negotiations on the final of three public contracts, town officials are eyeing savings in healthcare and staffing costs to help offset salary increases through the 2010 contract period.

In October, the town settled two major contract negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) and the town's public works employees, represented by the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) 69. In December, the town finalized a 3-year contract with members of NAGE 68, representing the town's civilian clerks and dispatchers.

According to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, the negotiations with all of the unions were driven by a recently-instituted cap on property tax increases sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Theresa Paiva-Weed (D-Jamestown, Newport).

In exchange for annual salary increases at an average rate of 3.5 percent for the town's public works employees, and 3.75 percent for police officers, both the IBPO and NAGE 69 agreed to increase healthcare co-pays and switch providers for increased savings to the town.

The contracts negotiated with the IBPO and NAGE 69, counts among its highlights a reduction in the town's healthcare costs as well as an increase in the number of police patrols per day. While under the town's clerks and dispatcher contract, which Keiser negotiated and councilors approved unanimously, the town stands to save up to $16,000 in police overtime by staffing with full-time civilian dispatchers.

In terms of public safety, the new police contract calls for a minimum of two patrol officers for each eight-hour shift and an increase over the current staffing, which only requires two patrols during the second and third shifts.

The contract also eliminates patrolman staffing on dispatch, allowing the town to hire full-time civilian dispatchers for an estimated savings of $20,000 to $25,000 per year, while at the same time freeing up two additional shifts per week for added patrol duty.

In addition, the contract also makes room for another sergeant for day-shift supervisor, a position that will be filled through promotion in order to maintain the size of the force at fifteen officers.

Savings are also projected in healthcare, where both the IBPO and NAGE agreed to switch from Blue Cross Classic to Healthmate, increase outpatient co-pay for specialists, urgent care and emergency room visitation, and increase prescription drug co-pay from $2 to $5 generic and $10 name-brand. In return, the town agreed to provide for Delta Dental Level IV at a cost of $2,500 per year.

According to Kesier, the plan modifications are estimated to reduce the town's Blue Cross premiums by 4 percent, or approximately $30,000 per year.

Additional savings will come in the long-term with police officers required to increase their salary contributions from 8 to 9 percent towards their cost of living adjustments (COLA) from one percent to age 55 and two percent thereafter to three percent annually.

At no immediate cost to the town or to police officers is an agreed upon 20-year pension plan. A key objective for the IBPO, Jamestown had been one of only three Rhode Island communities without a 20- year pension plan. The addition is seen as a key feature in keeping Jamestown competitive in recruiting qualified officers.

In October, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser described the negotiations as "a win-win" for the town and its workers.

"I think the police got what they wanted in terms of staffing and the 20-year pension, and I think the

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