The Representative Town Meeting voted Monday to ratify the contract negotiated by the town and Fairfield's police union, just a few months before discussions will begin on the next contract.
The three-year pact, which dates back to July 1, 2010 and will expire on June 30, 2013, includes a 5.5 percent wage increase over the life of the contract and will continue to cover both current and new employees under the standard pension plan.
Had the RTM rejected the contract, it would have gone into arbitration -- which some members felt would put the town in an unfavorable bargaining position.
"I do not wish to put at risk the benefits we have gained in these negotiations," Peter Ambrose, R-2, said.
The terms of the contract include:
- A wage freeze for the first year of the contract (2010-2011), a 2 percent salary increase for 2011-2012, a 2.75 percent increase for 2012-2013, and a .75 percent increase on the last day of the contract;
- Those hired after the approval of the contract will be on the standard pension plan but will receive a lower payout: 70 percent of base salary instead of 80 percent for current employees;
- Cost-of-living adjustments to new hire pensions will be 2 percent (for current employees, it's 3 percent);
- Sick leave will increase from five days accumulated per fiscal year to 10 days and the maximum total sum will rise from 80 to 120 days;
- Medical and dental premium costs will rise for both old and new employees and some copayments will increase.
As with several of the contract votes that occurred over the past year, RTM members discussed the pros and cons of implementing a defined contribution plan for new hires instead of maintaining the current pension plan.
Attorney Patrick McHale, who represents the town in negotiating the seven contracts that expired in 2010, said that sticking with the pension plan saves Fairfield money when it comes to the police union.
Fairfield's police department personnel are not eligible for Social Security because of the similar benefits they receive in their pension plan, according to McHale. Implementing a 401(a) contribution plan would mean the town would have to contribute the Social Security percentage equivalent of the department's pensionable payroll, plus disability insurance and the town's employer match to a 401(a) plan. Currently, the pension plan's components are base pay and longevity.
McHale calculated that, in maintaining the pension plan for new hires (and decreasing their payout to 70 percent of base salary), the town saves about 5.6 percent in pensionable payroll.
Bruce Ryan, R-10, said the town could save in the long run by switching to 401(a) plans for new hires, discontinuing pension payouts by the town "20-30 years from now."
"It would save us a lot of money to eliminate that liability," Ryan said.
But McHale said there is no evidence to support long-term savings by switching to a 401(a) plan.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara urged the RTM to ratify the contract.
"Three years without a contract leads to distraction in a department," he said. "At some point or other, they all have questioned the support of the town. They need to know you care about them."
He added that despite the uncertainty, the men and women of the department have "risen up to answer calls in the past three years, in historic events" that Fairfield and neighboring towns have faced -- including Tropical Storm Irene, Hurricane Sandy, the February blizzard, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The body voted to approve the contract in a 41-3 vote. Members Joseph Lipp, R-1, and Gaylord Meyer, R-1 abstained; Ed Bateson, R-3, Ryan, and Joseph DeMartino, R-4, opposed the agreement.