Christmas came early to Shaler Township residents Tuesday night with the approval of a new police contract and the prediction of no tax hike next year.
"We are very pleased to announce we have reached an agreement much earlier than usual," township manager Tim Rogers said before revealing details of the police department's new five-year contract. The meeting was called in November especially so the commissioners could vote on the bargaining agreement with the police department.
He thanked the police department's negotiation team, David Benko, detective; Shane Kochanowski, patrolman; Bruce Mion, patrolman; and Josh Watkins, patrolman; for taking current economic conditions into consideration when negotiating with the township. The men were chosen by their peers to represent the 25-officer department during negotiations, which began in June. "They are not represented by a union," Mr. Rogers explained. "They are represented by themselves.
"We are very pleased with the professionalism of our police officers," he continued. The 2013-17 police bargaining unit contract was approved unanimously by the commissioners present. David Shutter, board president, was out sick.
Year one begins with a wage freeze but the officers will each receive a $1,500 bonus. Wage increases in years two, three, four and five will be 1.92, 1.89, 1.85 and 1.82 percent, respectively. "This holds the average raise to 1.5 percent per year over the life of the contract," Mr. Rogers said.
To hold health care costs down, the officers' contributions toward any cost increases over the next five years have moved from 10 to 15 percent.
The biggest savings for the township, according to Mr. Rogers, comes in the pension portion of the agreement. The officers' 7.5 percent contribution toward retirement will increase to 8 percent next year. But this could change if current market conditions improve. Currently, the department's pension is 95 percent funded, but if it gets to 100 percent, the officers' contribution will drop to 3 percent.
The new contract also eliminates retiree health care. Officers can retire at age 55 as long as they have 25 years of service with the department. Health care, for both employee and spouse will continue until each reaches age 65 and they become eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. There will be no retiree health care for new hires.
And sick days have been reduced from 25 to 16. "This was a big concession," Mr. Rogers said.
"This agreement was proposed by the officers," he said. "There are people in this community getting no pay raises and they took this into consideration.
"Thanks to their understanding," Mr. Rogers pointed out, "an additional officer will be hired in January."
The January meeting may also be the time the commissioners roll out the proposed $11 million budget. This budget is 2 percent less than last year's. "We are in the process of reviewing the budget now," Mr. Rogers said, "but we anticipate a millage reduction."
Shaler Township residents currently are taxed at a rate of 3.05 mills. But once Allegheny County completes all property assessment appeals, scheduled through 4 p.m. on December 31, the commissioners will consider a millage reduction. This may take until March, according to Mr. Rogers.
Ultimately, residents whose assessed property valuation increases will pay more taxes while with decreases will pay less.