Peru residents reject plan to speed private-duty pay to officers

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PERU — Police officers who work private details in the town of Peru still will have to direct the flow of invoices, as well as traffic.

Residents at annual town meeting rejected a proposed bylaw that would have established a fund to ensure that officers who work such details, now at a rate of $45 an hour, are paid promptly.

The warrant article failed badly Saturday evening, near the end of a two-hour meeting to set the town's $2.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.

Treasurer Caryn E. Wendling rose to say she was against creating a new system for channeling pay to officers, saying it could result in more work for her office if it fell to her, rather than the officers themselves, to obtain payments from outside companies that hire police.

"We're too small of a town to be chasing money around," Wendling said.

The bylaw would have created a revolving fund, primed with $12,000 in town money, that would have allowed officers to be paid on a regular cycle after submitting hours for private duty jobs. As it stands, officers must themselves obtain payment from the outside companies, turn those checks over to the town and then wait for the funds to be allocated to them by the town.

The pace of outside details is picking up in Peru, because of the start of a broadband project by Charter Communications, and is expected to accelerate. So far this fiscal year, officers have worked nearly $32,000 worth of private details, compared to $12,292 last year.

Bruce Cullett, a Select Board member who serves as a police sergeant, said, before the measure was defeated, that officers would continue to play a role in obtaining payments from companies that hire them.

He noted officers now wait to be paid and said that is unfair. "It could be two months before they receive payment," Cullett said. "They expect payment when they do the work."

Police Chief Jeffrey Henault agreed, saying from where he stood with other public safety officials on one side of the Peru Community Center, that such a desire is understandable.

"People like to get paid for the work they do," he said.

But Wendling, the treasurer, said that, if there is a question of fairness involved, it is a matter for the officers themselves to reconcile, not the town or her office.

"It is up to the officer to decide whether to take the detail," she said. "It has nothing to do with working for the town of Peru."

The town must be involved because it would be a conflict of interest for officers to receive direct payment for work they do on town roads that is essentially the duty they perform for the public, Town Counsel Joel Bard said.

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Bard said the current system, in which officers play a role in obtaining payment from the outside companies, appeared to be working.

"You keep the heat on the company that asks for the details. It shouldn't be a problem," Bard said.

Other action

The town's $2.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year is $62,494 higher than last year, representing an increase of 2.9 percent, said Finance Committee Chairman George D. Greule.

The budget includes pay increases of about 2 percent for elected and appointed town employees.

Greule said local officials have little latitude with most of the town's budget, noting that 62.9 percent of it is nondiscretionary. "Here it is, pay the bill," he said. "We argue about 37.1 percent of the dollar."

Greule told residents the town will continue for a decade to pay its share of past capital investments in Wahconah Regional High School for work that will be demolished after a new school goes up long before that date.

The next budget does not yet include capital costs for the new high school that residents in the district's seven member towns approved by a popular vote April 6. "When Wahconah hits the budget, that's going to hurt," Greule said.

One allocation that sparked debate concerned a plan to spend $35,000 to blacktop areas around the town's transfer station.

Several residents called for the money to be invested instead in repairs to local roads. Separately, town meeting approved a warrant article that will add $10,000 to maintenance of paved roads, pushing the allocation to $28,000, and adding $6,000 for care of gravel roads.

Justin Russell, the highway superintendent, said, because of poor drainage in the area, blacktop is the only way to deal with mud problems at the transfer station.

The largest single expense on the budget, $869,025 as the town's share of the Central Berkshire Regional School District, passed with no discussion. That expense is down 0.5 percent from this year.

Other expenses approved included $327,180 for care of roads, including wages, fuel, equipment and other costs; $214,710 for vocational school tuition and transportation; and $115,643 for public safety, including ambulance, police wages and expenses.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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