By Ross Markman
Two hours and three lengthy caucuses after the meeting began, both sides could only agree to one thing: to disagree.
Tuesday night, the Havre City Council's labor negotiations committee met with the Havre police union in an attempt to sign a two-year contract. It was unsuccessful.
The union's contract expired on June 30. Regardless of when the new contract is signed, its terms will be retroactive to July 1 and run until June 30, 2004.
"We're not going to settle tonight. We're not going to accept the proposal and we're not going to reject it," union representative Dick Letang said. "I think we're at a point where I need to get as many officers in the room as possible."
The city's final proposal of the evening offered the union a 3.5 percent across-the-board salary increase for the first year of the contract and a 3 percent raise the second year. The city also said it would pick up half of each officer's health insurance premium increase.
"The insurance didn't go up that bad. The plan changes somewhat but it's not a drastic change," committee chairman Tom Farnham said.
Because of an increase in the premiums, a single city employee will go from paying nothing to paying $25 a month, while a married employee with no children will go from paying $105 to $154. An employee with a family will see a hike in premiums from $150 to $214 a month.
With the city's offer to pay half of the increase, a single employee would pay $13 a month, a family of two would pay $130 and a family of three or more would spend $185.
These aren't exact figures, Farnham said, but they're close to how much the insurance rates will go up.
The insurance plan also calls for a hike in the deductible for major medical expenses, from $1,000 to $1,500, and minor medical from $100 to $250.
The city's insurance agent is Steve Mariani of Steve Mariani Insurance in Havre. Mariani represents Intermountain Administrator, the city's provider.
"Compared to the insurance of other employees, that's a decent plan and a decent price," Farnham said. "The insurance for the city hasn't been raised in the last 10 years. We've been real lucky."
Insurance, Letang said, will likely be the sticking point in negotiations.
"We're getting closer but I do think insurance is going to be the stumbling block," he said. "The only thing they have is their salary and their insurance package."
Earlier in the meeting, Letang proposed two options to the labor negotiations committee.
The first asked for a 4 percent across-the-board salary increase for both years of the contract. It also requested that the city pay the entire insurance increase.
In the second option, the union asked for a 3 percent salary raise each year for those classified as senior patrol officer or less, and a 4 percent increase for sergeants and lieutenants.
"We feel if we're going to do something for the little people, we need to something for sergeant and lieutenant classifications," Letang said. "We think long term this will help retain employees beyond five years."
The second choice also proposed that the city pick up the entire insurance increase. It also asks for a $5,000 bonus to be paid to any officer classified as a senior patrol officer or less after he or she has been with the department for five years.
The bonus, Letang said, would be retroactive to the employee's date of hire. One officer would receive the bonus this year and two would receive it in 2003. A total of 10 would be eligible for the $5,000 within the next four years, Letang said.
The committee had other ideas.
If the city agreed to the bonus, Farnham said, it would only be used to retain employees hired after July 1 of this year. The employee would get the money after completing five years with the police force, he said.
"This is to keep those who come in. It's something to give them an incentive to stay," he said.
Havre police Lt. George Tate said last month that two officers have left the force in recent months for the Billings Police Department. Both had three or four years with the Havre force.
Some leave for money, others to be closer to family, he added.
"We see a high turnaround between years two and five. They just go to bigger departments and move on to better-paying jobs," said Tate, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
Letang will meet with the police union next week to develop another counterproposal. The union will meet again with the labor negotiations committee July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.