NORTH ADAMS -- The city has settled contract negotiations with its fire, police, and public works departments for the first time in more than a year.
The new contracts -- all of which include raises of 1 percent or less per year -- will add about $137,000 in back pay for the city employees. The period of each departments back pay, however, is less than the length of time they were without a contract.
The Fire Department has gone the longest without a new contract, dating back three years. The new contract includes raises and a small increase in each department’s clothing allowance, according to Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The fire department has been working under an expired contract for the past three years, but it agreed to accept increases retroactive to only a year and a half.
All three departments agreed to contracts that will run through fiscal 2015, and Alcombright thanked their unions for keeping requests "manageable." Since 2010, every public union in the city has had to take an increase of 0 percent at least once, the mayor said.
Although the city is in fiscal trouble heading into the fiscal 2015 budget, Alcombright said the back pay already has been included in budget estimates and will be paid out of reserve accounts.
After some debate, the City Council passed three separate measures allowing the back pay. The first two votes allowed for $41,000 to cover retroactive costs from fiscal 2013. The third authorizes the $96,000 for fiscal 2014, which is expected to be taken from reserves at the end of the fiscal year.
""We’re hoping that the rest of the money will be there some time in the future," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. "I have an issue with that."
The councilors also debated the amount of the raises. Councilor Keith Bona said that the raises, for an employee making $35,000 annually, would work out to about 16 cents more per hour.
Alcombright said the city has taken a unique approach to negotiating to save money. For example, he said, the city has allowed sick time to accumulate to a higher amount, but only pays it when an employee retires, not quits.