By Dan Hust
LIBERTY The Village of Liberty’s budget, set to be approved by the board last night (after press time), is expected to feature a one percent tax increase.
That figure was reached, according to Mayor Richard Winters, after the board and the union representing the police department, the Liberty PBA, agreed to a new round of concessions from officers.
“They basically came back with what we’ve been asking from them all along,” Winters said yesterday.
Prior to a public hearing on the proposed budget this past Wednesday, PBA President Steve D’Agata offered far more than the original proposal to defer the three percent raises contractually guaranteed for each of the union’s 19 members. (Of the entire Liberty Police Dept., only Chief Rob Mir is not a member.)
This time, D’Agata said his membership was willing to entirely forego the raises due them this year, plus stipends for various extra skill sets, plus a raise in monies provided for uniforms and equipment, plus incentives given to those using the least amount of sick time.
On top of that, the employees offered to work 12-hour shifts instead of 8-hour ones, bringing the total estimated savings from PBA concessions to just over $102,000, said D’Agata.
“I believe we were lucky to get out with what we did,” D’Agata said yesterday, affirming the village board seemed adamant in demanding cuts leading to either a low or zero tax hike. “... What surprised me was that no other department was told they were going to lose personnel.”
Winters had issued a press release prior to a board meeting two weeks ago, stating that three layoffs were planned for the police department if there were no more cuts beyond the near-$100,000 in savings already found by Chief Mir.
Despite dozens of public comments made that night criticizing the board’s approach, trustees were resolute in how much the village could afford to provide to its police force and how much the police would have to do without.
“I believe they weren’t going to come off that [stance],” D’Agata remarked.
So the PBA members opted to make deeper cuts rather than lose colleagues.
“The sacrifices that our members have made represent their dedication to policing the Village of Liberty,” D’Agata said. “Every member made the decision to take money away from their families so that every police officer here would remain employed and the residents of the Village of Liberty would enjoy the same level of safety.”
“Nothing would impair morale more than losing members of the department,” confirmed Mir, who served as the middle man between the PBA and the village board.
Nevertheless, said D’Agata, “the entire process was incredibly demoralizing.”
He added that many of the employees feel the police department was unfairly targeted for cuts, though Winters insists it was not a battle nor personal.
Affirming his and the board’s ongoing support of the police force, Winters said he maintains a good relationship with Mir.
“We did the best we could do, and they did the best they could do,” he explained.
Mir felt the same way.
“We’ve got a good agreement, and there’s no hard feelings,” he said.
In fact, he pointed out that the PBA was willing to make these concessions last for two years instead of one, but the board declined, saying it would rather remain optimistic that 2012 will turn out better than 2011.
Still, Mir, Winters and D’Agata all foresee another round of negotiations between them come this time next year.