By Jim Schroeder
The Havre police won't have to pick up the tab for a 25 percent increase on their health insurance premiums this year and they will also receive a two- year, 6.5 percent across-the-board salary increase, if police association members and the City Council adopt a tentative agreement reached early today.
"It's something they can live with," police association negotiator Dick Letang said. "I don't see any problems with getting it voted on and ratified."
Health insurance premiums haven't increased for city employees in the last 10 years.
More than half of the 16 city police officers have dependent coverage, which was the major factor in accepting the tentative agreement, Letang said.
The City Council's labor negotiations committee and the Havre police association reached the tentative agreement shortly after midnight after nearly seven hours of mediated bargaining. "We tried everything," committee chairman Tom Farnham said. "We tried working for the taxpayers and the people."
The contract negotiations have taken place since March. The police, who are members of the Montana Public Employees Association, originally wanted an 8 percent wage increase over two years and also wanted the added cost of their rising insurance premiums to be paid for one year by the city.
But with a city budget shortfall of nearly $140,000 the police agreed to reduce their wage request to 6.5 percent if the city would pay their first year of rising insurance premiums.
The state mediator, Vicki Knudsen, said that as a result of the agreement, the only contract item open for negotiation in the second year is the insurance issue.
Clearly, the police association was concerned about all of the city's employees, Knudsen said. Their proposal provides for the establishment of a citywide health insurance committee to make recommendations on insurance issues to the City Council.
Both sides agreed to form a standing committee for next year's insurance issues, the state mediator said.
It was important to the police association as well as the City Council that everyone affected by insurance have a chance to participate and they could with the establishment of the insurance committee, she added.
"Both parties worked hard and were willing to compromise to reach an agreement," Knudsen said. "By reaching a two-year agreement the parties are breaking a tradition over the last several years of having one-year contracts, which can give everybody a break from negotiations."
Under the tentative agreement, a single officer will continue to pay nothing for insurance, although a single officer's rates will increase from $195 to $220 a month. A two-party insurance premium, which was $390 a month, will rise to $487.50. Normally the city would pay $285 on the two-party insurance premium and the police officer would pay $105. Under the tentative agreement the city will pay the added insurance cost and the police officer will continue paying $105 on the premium.
Monthly family health insurance rates of $515 a month will increase to $643.75. A police officer with family health insurance coverage will continue to pay $150 a month. The city has been paying $365 for family health insurance and will pick up the increase.
The police association's tentative agreement is similar to the recent agreement between the fire department's union and the city, but firefighters would pay half of the insurance increase and receive a one-year, 4 percent wage increase.
The police and fire agreements are planned to be finalized by the City Council on Sept. 3, Farnham said.