The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quinn cuts force police salary adjustments

The controversial Massachusetts Quinn Bill, which provides state funding for salary boosts for police officers who earn college degrees, will be severely cut or eliminated next year. On June 23, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) discussed how to adjust Carlisle police salaries to reflect the new realities.

The police contracts specify that the base salary rates should be adjusted to reflect any change in state funding. However, past practice was to include Quinn payments as part of the hourly rate from which overtime was calculated, so any reduction in rate would also reduce overtime. The police had asked the BOS to allow overtime to be calculated on an hourly rate that includes the former Quinn Bill percentage, taking the reduction out at the end. The result would be to reduce police pay only by the amount the town is losing in state funding and not to also cut overtime pay.

Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie reported that the legislature has cut Quinn funding for FY10 to 20% of what it had been, and that Governor Patrick wants to eliminate the program completely. Although the town awaits a final decision by the state, salary adjustment must be made now as the new fiscal year starts next week. McKenzie proposed that the town assume no Quinn funding from the state and make a later adjustment once the true number is known, probably in late July. Currently Carlisle matches Quinn state funding and these contributions would not be affected.

It was not clear that the BOS originally intended for Quinn payments to also raise overtime rates. At one point Stevenson pointed to “a flaw in the plan set up in 1998.” McKenzie said that some communities pay out Quinn as a one-time stipend, but Carlisle elected to include it as part of salary. The state does not compensate the town for incentive pay included in overtime, so the boost in overtime was paid entirely by taxpayers. All Carlisle police officers receive some Quinn incentive, with the maximum a 12.5% increase to base pay from the state matched by 12.5% from the town.

But having established a practice, Selectman John Williams felt the police should lose only what the town is losing and not more. Chair Doug Stevenson said implementing the reduction in the way specified in the contract “would mean a fairly significant decrease in hourly rate and overtime.” Selectman Peter Scavongelli said, “No one really wants to hand out a pay cut, but we want to be responsible to taxpayers.”

A suggestion was made that pay rates be cut but overtime calculated as was done in the past, but Bill Tice noted this would widen the differential between regular and overtime pay and could provide an incentive for “bad behavior.” Town Accountant Priscilla Dumka asked for a simpler plan that would not require two sets of calculations.

In the end, the BOS voted for the time being to calculate pay as is and take out the dollar amount of the lost revenue spread over the year. An adjustment was also made for FY09 as the town expects to receive less than full Quinn funding.

Stevenson pointed to “a conflict between the contract and our practice” but noted the police union can challenge a decision by citing past practice. The difference could amount to “thousands of dollars at end of the year” for an officer with substantial overtime. Williams noted, “That’s what we’ve established. It is what it is,” but suggested remembering the town’s generosity the next time the contract is negotiated. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito