Supervisors in the Concord Police Department have gone more than 10 months without a new contract.
On Tuesday night, the city council will be asked to approve a retroactive agreement with the 19-member union, which includes raises of 2.75% for four years; increases to the amount of vacation time they can earn through years of service; changes to health insurance; and an allowance of three sick days during the last two years of employment without affecting severance pay upon retirement.
In the first year of the contract, the raises are expected to add $43,600 to the city budget, according to the city’s legal department. In the fourth year, the raises are expected to cost $51,400.
The council will also be asked to approve a second contract with a larger bargaining unit that covers employees in the general services, recreation and engineering departments. That contract is due to expire at the end of December. The new agreement calls for 2.75% raises for workers across the board for three years, changes to health insurance, and eliminates one step at the bottom of the pay scale and adds a new step at the top.
Raises for the 87 members of that union are expected to cost the city $126,700 in the first year of the contract and $137,200 in the third year, according to the city’s legal department.
This is the first time the city has made public such cost information before a council vote. In the past, the public had no notice of when the city council would vote on a contract, no opportunity to comment before a contract is passed, and learned how much a contract would cost only after it was a done deal.
“I don’t think it was fair to the public to do that,” Mayor Jim Bouley said at a candidates forum at Concord High School on Oct. 29.
Bouley said the city’s Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee reviewed how other cities handled public information prior to approving contracts and recommended the city provide information to the public about cost items in tentative labor agreements on its consent agenda before city council meetings.
The city’s solicitor, Jim Kennedy and Deputy City Soliciter Danielle Pacik summarized the cost items related to the two new proposed contracts with the police supervisors and the municipal employees bargaining unit for the public to view ahead of the meeting.
Bouley said the city wanted to be as transparent as it could be, but the way the city had approached contracts in the past was a “weakness.”
“Contracts are treated differently than any other item that we vote on in the city,” he said. “Everybody in the community will have the opportunity to call their councilor to let them know exactly what they think: Is it a good contract, a bad contract, or something that could be improved or not improved.”
The ways cities approach contracts vary. Most cities allow for a general public comment period during the meeting. Some hold full public hearings.
At least two other cities – Keene and Claremont – handle things similarly to the way Concord did, and provide little to no information about cost items prior to a council vote. In Berlin, the cost items associated with the contract are read into the record just before the council votes.
New Hampshire labor law (RSAs 273-A) says a legislative body must vote within 30 days after it receives cost items. If a municipal body rejects any part of the submitted items or wants to make changes, either party may reopen negotiations on all or part of the entire agreement.
The state’s right to know law (91-A:2) governs access to government records and meetings. It exempts certain things from public meetings, including “strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining.”
There’s nothing in either law preventing towns and cities from releasing cost items information once negotiations are concluded, said Cordell Johnston, government affairs representative for the New Hampshire Municipal Association. There’s nothing stopping them from withholding the information until after a vote, either.
However, “That seems to be the appropriate thing to do,” Johnston said when asked about making cost items public. “It’s good for the public to know what the city council is voting on.”
Employee salaries and benefits are the biggest portion of a municipality’s budget, accounting for about 75% of all spending.