Tisbury revises police contract cost
In a binding decision dated January 21, a state labor relations board with responsibility for arbitrating police and fire contracts settled a nearly three-year-long contract dispute between the town of Tisbury and the union that represents Tisbury police officers. Last Thursday Tisbury officials revised the projected cost of the state labor board's decision provided one day earlier downward by approximately $475,000.
The absence of Tim McLean, the town treasurer who was on vacation for a week, left a number crunching vacuum on Wednesday February 17, when it came to calculating an accurate price tag for the arbitration decision that settled the contract fight. Into that vacuum stepped Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee and Tristan Israel, chairman of the selectmen. They agreed that the cost of the contract settlement would be close to $600,000, a figure that had been discussed earlier among town officials, before the award was decided. The number was not based on the actual awards decided by the state panel that settled the matter.
A careful calculation, based on the actual award, sets the cost at $125,000 to $135,000. Mr. McLean, back on the job February 18, ran the numbers and came up with the more modest and more accurate figure.
Last month, the Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee for Municipal Police and Fire (JLMC) resolved a list of nine outstanding issues that had divided the two sides. Wages, hourly pay rates, and work rules were at the heart of the contract impasse.
On Wednesday February 17, Mr. Bugbee and Mr. Israel told The Times they expected the cost to taxpayers, who must still approve the settlement, would be about $600,000. That includes funding 3.5 percent annual pay increases, retroactive to July 1, 2007, the date when the contract at the heart of the long-running dispute was to have gone into effect.
On Thursday February 18, Mr. Bugbee called The Times to report that the number published was incorrect and the actual figure would be closer to $125,000. The difference from one day to the next is accounted for by the return February 18 from vacation of town treasurer McLean.
Mr. McLean, who was part of the town's negotiating team, said that if the arbitration panel had awarded the police union all of the benefits the union asked for, retroactive to July 2007, the price tag would have been close to $600,000.
The town's offer, calculated on a 3.5-percent raise, was expected to cost about $100,000, he said. Although he has not calculated the cost, Mr. McLean said that because the union did not get everything it sought, he expects the number will be between $125,000 and $135,000.
"That's my best guess looking at raw numbers," he told The Times in a telephone call on February 18.
Asked why Mr. Bugbee would be so far off on the cost of an award, whose terms the town received on January 21, Mr. McLean said the number was an original estimate, but he had no idea why it would have been used to provide a current estimate.
Mr. McLean noted that Mr. Bugbee provided a figure of $75,000 for an article that will appear on the annual town meeting warrant.
"He put 75 in, and when we got the award in, I looked at, and I said I think it is going to be 125," Mr. McLean told The Times. "So I don't know where the $600,000 came from. When I picked up the paper this morning, I said, "'Oh my God.'"
Mr. McLean said he received an emailed outline of the award about three weeks ago. He received the actual award decision, he said, a few days before he left for a one-week vacation.
Asked if any town officials inquired about the cost prior to his vacation, Mr. McLean said, "Yes. I had the discussion with Tristan [Israel]. I told him I thought it was going to be about 125."
Mr. McClean said he could not remember if he spoke to Mr. Bugbee, but he did recall telling Aase Jones, Mr. Bugbee's assistant, that the warrant article would need to be revised from $75,000 to $125,000.
On Friday February 19, Mr. Bugbee told The Times that the $600,000 number he provided two days earlier was the only number he had at the time. Asked why in his earlier conversation with The Times he did not put that number in the context of an earlier estimate, Mr. Bugbee said that Tristan Israel was the only person who had the number, and that is the number he provided.
Asked why that number did not match the $75,000 figure he had inserted into the spring town meeting warrant article, Mr. Bugbee said, "That number was not based on anything. That was a number that was going to be amended."
Mr. Bugbee said the absence of Mr. McLean was the reason there was no certain figure. "Tim, before he left, had no number, other than the high number, and said I'm going to work on it, and when I have a number I'll let you know," Mr. Bugbee told The Times.
Mr. Bugbee said he spoke to Mr. Israel before providing a figure to The Times on February 17 for publication. "Tristan said I'm going with $600,000, because that's the only number that we have," Mr. Bugbee told The Times in a telephone conversation, following publication of the incorrect amount.
"So I said, okay, then that's what we'll use, $600,000. I didn't know, nor did anyone else, that the number was going to be so far below it, because no calculation had been done until Tim returned."