By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
After approving the contract with the union representing law enforcement personnel, Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS), the city of Little Falls has just one contract negotiation remaining.
LELS covers the 11 full-time officers, two records technicians and two – three part-time officers at the Little Falls Police Department (LFPD).
The contract with LELS includes a 2 percent wage increase for these personnel, which does not include the chief or captain. The chief and captain are represented by Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) union.
Little Falls City Administrator Dan Vogt said that in addition to the wage increase, confusing language in the contract was “cleaned up” regarding overtime.
The percentage of health insurance premiums was set at the city paying 80 percent for family coverage and the employee paying 20 percent. Prior to this, the city paid the premium for single coverage and contributed up to $300 for families, plus an amount up to 50 percent of any increase for the cost of dependent coverage.
The city pays single coverage at 100 percent, which in 2014 is $536.11, down from $556.44 in 2013.
A monthly family plan premium is $1,420.38. Under the old contract, the city would have paid $1,128.24 and the employee $292.14. Under the new contract, the city will pay $1,136.30 or just over $8 per month more, and the employee will pay $284.08, representing an 80/20 split.
LFPD personnel are paid based on a step plan which takes into consideration the number of years of service. With the 2 percent increase, police officers will start at $3,333 per month. After one year, that goes to $3,489; two years – $3,656; three years – $3,817; four years – $3,998; five years – $4,137 and six years – $4,357.
A sergeant will now start at $3,612 per month; after one year – $3,788; two years – $3,957; three years – $4,142; four years – $4,323; five years – $4,503 and six years – $4,716.
Dispatcher and records technicians’ wages were increased from $18.24 to $18.97 per hour, with a 60 cents per hour for time worked between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The vote was 7-1, with Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder being the lone “no” vote.
“In this day and age with the economy the way it is, I think it’s a lot to expect an increase,” said Crowder. “The budget is already over $1 million for the police department. With the residents of Little Falls paying for police coverage, and just with the state of the economy, we really have to watch our spending.”
The budget for the LFPD is set at $1.383 million for 2014. Of that, $1.190 million is wages and salaries, or 86 percent of the LFPD budget.
Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, who was part of the negotiating committee with the city with Vogt and Council President Don Klinker said the increase has been a long time in coming.
Although the officers did receive a 2 percent raise in 2013, VanRisseghem said the city needs to keep up with the statewide average for officer compensation.
“On an average, these guys have taken cuts or not received a raise for many years,” she said. “You get to the point you got to start giving them the salary due to them.
“You really want to keep our guys up where a lot of the other communities are, and we’re not by far even close to some of them,” she said.
As far as the health insurance part of the contract, VanRisseghem said, “We can’t do a thing with health insurance, unless the union agrees, so we’ve really been working at bringing some of the costs down on that. I feel we’ve been successful.”
She said employees need to have an incentive to keep moving forward.
“If they weren’t moving forward, they’d go find jobs in other places,” she said. “We’ve got good police officers. It was a raise that was well-deserved.”
Little Falls Council Briefs
In other business Monday, the Little Falls City Council:
• Unanimously elected Don Klinker as president of the Council and Frank Gosiak as vice president;
• Approved a gambling permit for the Minnesota Rodeo Association for a Sept. 14 event at the Morrison County Fairgrounds;
• Approved closing out the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) grant through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for Larson Boats. Finance Officer Lori Kasella said now that Larson Boats had met the federal requirements, the city would retain the $500,000 loaned plus interest, to be put into a revolving fund for relending to other entities;
• Designated the Morrison County Record as the city’s legal newspaper;
• Designated banks for city deposits and payroll accounts, as well as savings and investment institutions for the city for 2014;
• Accepted with regret the resignation of Little Falls Police Department Captain Michael Casillas, after 31 years of service. His resignation is effective Feb. 28;
• Accepted Jerry Abraham’s request for cancellation of the city’s limited contract with him, effective Jan. 9. Abraham, who operated the city’s local access television channels 6 and 12 for 16 years, retired in November 2013 and has been working on a limited contract until the city found another entity to run the operation. Both Great River Arts and the Little Falls School District have expressed interest in taking over operation of public access television in Little Falls; and
• Heard Public Works Director Jerry Lochner discuss what work city staff could do at a reduced rate on the first phase of the proposed recreational complex which would house, among other things, a splash pad and skate park. The Council asked Lochner for a different report to show actual savings.
Due to the Martin Luther King holiday, the Council’s next meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m.