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Vergennes strikes deal with first police union

Congenial. Amicable. Riddled with humor. It was a pleasure to work with both teams. And I think we have a document that everybody is satisfied with. There was no tension … We just collectively worked together through the process.
— City Manager Matt Chabot

VERGENNES — A little more than two months of talks have concluded with a new 30-page contract for the officers of the Vergennes Police Department that will take effect on Jan. 1 and run through June 30, 2022.
The Vergennes City Council conditionally agreed in principle to the deal at its Dec. 17 meeting, but an accidental omission of a health insurance provision stalled the official signing of the document until late last week.
The contract, according to City Manager Matt Chabot, will give the department’s patrolmen and officers — exclusive of Chief George Merkel, who is not included in the new police union — 3% raises in each year, modest on-call wages, offer them increased pay for achieving educational and training milestones, and adjusted their health insurance benefits.
Chabot said the police union — officers voted last summer to affiliate with the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA) — agreed to accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield Gold plans instead of the Platinum plans they had been offered.
Vergennes will continue to pay 100% of the cost of those plans to currently employed police officers, and provide them $5,000 Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) Cards, Chabot said.
He expects officers’ use of those cards will increase, but said the city will still come out ahead on the costs of providing health insurance.
“We do anticipate that our expenses with our HRA program are going to go up, because the Gold program has a larger out-of-pocket for the employee,” Chabot said. “But in total there is going to be significant savings on healthcare.”
As is the case with other new city employees per a recently adopted Vergennes City Council policy, newly hired Vergennes Police Department officers will be responsible for paying 20% of their health insurance policies, according to the contract.
Officers have received no pay for being on call and now will receive $7 per day, according to Chabot, and the contract guarantees them at least four hours of pay for responding.
Moving forward, officers will also receive 25-, 50- or 75-cent hourly pay hikes for obtaining associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees, respectively, in the field.  
“There are some enhancements to their on-call and educational enhancement payments,” Chabot said.
Other changes were minimal from the existing contract, according to Chabot, and he said he had budgeted a 2.9% pay increase for the next fiscal year.
Chabot was asked what impact the new contract would have on the annual Vergennes budget.
“An approximate number right now is $4,800 in savings,” Chabot said, basing that number mostly on an estimated $21,000 decrease in the cost of providing health insurance to offset the increase in pay.
In talks that began on Oct. 10, Chabot worked with a team that included zoning administrator Peter Garon, who has experience negotiating labor deals, and administrative assistant Abbie Farrar.
Vergennes Police Detective Jason Ouellette, Officers Mark Barber and Mark Stacey, and NEPBA’s Chris Hoar represented the union in a series of four meetings, all held at Vergennes City Hall, according to Chabot.
Chabot described the meetings as productive and friendly.
“Congenial. Amicable. Riddled with humor. It was a pleasure to work with both teams. And I think we have a document that everybody is satisfied with. There was no tension,” he said. “We just collectively worked together through the process.”
Police officers did not immediately respond to a Monday morning email seeking comment before the early deadline for this holiday edition of the Independent.
The document covers many basic areas of employer-employee relations, including seniority in the case of layoffs and returns from layoffs, grievance procedures, and establishment of union and management rights.
There are also specifics to police departments, such as the requirements for the city to provide body armor, first-aid kits in cruisers, and uniform allowances; requirements for officers to keep police equipment in good order; and provisions related to the city’s obligations to provide for the K-9 officer, including that the city of Vergennes pay for dog food.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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