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4-3 vote for police contract

A four-year contract for the Williamsport Bureau of Police Lodge 29 union narrowly passed Thursday in a 4-3 vote by City Council.

The main discussion point was the unionized police officers’ contract including raises of 1 percent next year, 2 percent the following year, 2 percent the year after and 3 percent in the final year. Concessions were made to employee contribution on health insurance, Damon R. Hagan, city police chief said. A copy of the contract was requested by the Sun-Gazette and was not provided as of press time.

Hagan said the city administration proposal was no increase next year. The union countered with a 1 percent increase next year.

Voting for the contract were Council President Randall J. Allison, Liz Miele, David Banks and Jon Mackey. Voting against it were Adam Yoder, Vincent Pulizzi and Bonnie Katz.

Yoder said the salaries are not equitable to other public safety personnel and the passage would have “ripple effects” next year and through the contract life.

Katz credited the department for concessions to health insurance but said council’s job was to “protect city taxpayers.”

“It boils down to the dollar,” Katz said on a night when she and council approved a half-mill tax increase 2021 budget with an eye toward reopening it in January to lower costs.

Pulizzi said it was a year when the COVID-19 pandemic effected people financially. He said while he supported the police officers he could foresee a year ahead with future taxpayer burdens that council will need to address.

Banks said not passing the contract that was agreed to by the sides would potentially end up in the city being in arbitration. That would be more costly and worse on finances potentially than the contract cost, he said.

Allison also said a grievance and arbitration would result in the city standing to lose because of the union concessions.

The “risk of arbitration” is too great, he said.

Hagan said the department was prepared to work with 47 officers, with the expected retirement of Assistant Chief Mark Sechrist on Jan. 4.

Miele said the public safety unions and transit union have been doing what they can to reach concessions and lower taxpayer burden, but that more could be done as officials worked together through the upcoming year.

The council voted unanimously to hire Brandon Wheeler, 23, formerly of Mill Hall, as the next police officer, who will be hitting the streets as of Jan. 4, Hagan said.

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