Those were approved despite concerns about the financial sustainability of the police contracts and their impacts on taxpayers.
The Waterville Police Department is seen on Oct. 5, 2022. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

Waterville police officers have won a pay increase for the new year, but the move comes as uncertainty and major changes loom ahead for the city.

Last month, the Waterville City Council considered changes to two union contracts between the city and the National Fraternal Order of Police — including six employees in the commanding officers unit and 25 patrol officers — and tabled the decision. Councilors deliberated again during a lengthy executive session Tuesday. 

The decision means police will earn the pay increases and vacation time they have sought as Waterville’s department, like others across the state, wrestles with staffing shortages and burnout. Councilors acknowledged the decision was difficult because some were concerned about the financial sustainability of the contracts and their impacts on taxpayers.

A $40,000 review that could seriously shift policing in Waterville is underway, and longtime Chief Joseph Massey retired in November. City Manager Stephen Daly abruptly resigned Dec. 22 after nearly two years on the job, citing personal and urgent circumstances.

“Both of these [contracts] have serious problems,” Councilor Claude Francke said. “Adding more than $300,000 to next year’s budget before any budget decisions have taken place puts the interim city manager behind the eight ball the first day on the job.”

The contracts are inconsistent with a recent wage study for city workers, he said.

They also cement wages before the department’s review — which the International Association of Chiefs of Police is conducting — implements changes, which Francke said is contrary to general practice in collective bargaining. In his 30 years of bargaining experience, Francke said he has never seen wages negotiated prior to hours and working conditions.

The city is either going to give officers a raise and attract new recruits or spend the money on overtime for officers being worked to the bone, Councilor Thomas McCormick said.

Council Chair Rebecca Green agreed with Francke on a number of points. The agreement is unusual and comes amid many elements, some of which surprised the council, she said.

“I personally have to weigh those circumstances against my reservations about the fiscal impact of this,” she said. “It’s a very, very hard decision to make, but in this case, the city went into negotiations and came up with an agreement. I feel we need to honor it.”

There might be ways to keep upcoming budgets sustainable with the agreements in place, but councilors may need to consider hard decisions related to the tax rate, Councilor Thomas Klepach said.

Learning more about the review in progress helped Green make a decision. If everything she’s been told is correct, the city will end up with a progressive and effective community model of policing, which it needs and will improve everyone’s quality of life, she said.

Councilors voted 6-1 to adopt the contracts, with Francke opposed.