Deal includes increased coverage for spouses; changes expected to ‘sift down’ to other city workers

Police union contract in Belfast breaks seal on employee health insurance premiums

City Council restarts Cross Street redevelopment, approves steeper rules for deep moorings
Fri, 03/06/2015 - 9:15am

Story Location:
131 Church Street
Belfast, ME 04915
United States

    BELFAST - To anyone working in the private sector, government jobs can look awfully generous. Even by the standards of other municipalities, Belfast’s full health insurance coverage for employees is high. But for spouses and dependents, the city has been among the stingiest municipalities in the state.

    Belfast currently pays the full $708 monthly premium for employees and $100 toward coverage for children and spouses. This translates to out of pocket cost of $396 per month for children and $963 for the spouse, or in the case of the latter, a city contribution of just 9-percent, as compared with the 80–percent share typical in other municipalities.

    Reconciling these extremes and balancing deferred wage increases with local taxes were the major factors in a two-year negotiation with the city’s police union that was resolved this week.

    On March 3, the City Council signed off two contracts spanning a total of four years and dating back to mid-2013. The retroactive portion, through June 30 of this year, holds the line wages on for the first year and gives a 1-percent cost of living allowance in the second.

    Years three and four are when things start to happen with health insurance. Beginning July 1, the 15 employees of the police department will have to pay 10-percent of their own premiums but will be able to get 80-percent coverage for spouses. Those hired after 1999 and covering a spouse will have to pay 20-percent of both premiumas.

    The overall cost to taxpayers will top out around $33,000 per year. For perspective, Slocum noted that the total police department budget is around $990,000.

    ”It’s a really small increment,” he said. 

    The city is currently in negotiations with the union that represents the 16 employees of the Public Works Department, Transfer Station and Wastewater Treatment Plant. The remaining 35 city employees not represented by a union have historically been extended similar terms to the negotiated contracts. Slocum was optimistic that the new Police Union contract would pave the way for the public works contract.

    Typically, he said, contract terms “sift down” from the police department.

    The little engineer that couldn’t

    A planned overhaul of Cross Street that would turn the featureless alley into a pedestrian-friendly corridor between Main Street and Belfast Common appears likely to happen despite some wildly off-target cost projections that forced city officials back to the drawing board after breaking ground last summer.

    The project started promisingly with a $500,000 downtown revitalization grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development. Wayne Marshall, Belfast’s city planner, said Tuesday that the project was initially projected to cost around $200,000.

    The city hired the engineering firm Sebago Technics to draft designs and give cost estimates. The firm project a total cost of around $600,000. A pre-bid conference that followed drew just two contractors and bids that ranged from $900,000 to $1.2 million. Officials retooled the plans to include an a la carte menu of “bid alternates.” Sebago Technics revised its estimate to $675,000. When 13 bidders showed up at the next conference, Marshall said he was optimistic, but the lowest bid was still over $800,000 and ultimately had to be rejected because it didn’t meet grant requirements.

    On Tuesday, Marshall asked the Council for $530,000 in addition to the $500,000 grant. It was approved unanimously, but not without questions.

    Councilor Eric Sanders asked why the initial estimate was so far off. Marshall offered a few factors cited by the engineer, including a lack of experience in the Midcoast and not accounting for the comparatively small volumes of materials needed for the project.

    Sanders and others puzzled over what it meant that the city had paid around $70,000 to a company that had two given cost estimates that weren’t even close.

    “The guy was wrong,” said Councilor Mike Hurley.

    After some conversation, the council established that the plans drafted by Sebago Technics were good, and that good plans trumped twice-bungled cost projections.

    Belfast borrows

    On a related topic, the Council authorized borrowing up to $1 million until February 2016 to fund the Cross Street improvements, parts of a planned $3.8 million renovation of Front Street and costs related to the city-owned ‘Maskers’ property on Front Street.

    In other business, the Council:

    • Approved buying and installing seven granite benches and accepting an eighth in memory of Peg Worth for the Armistice footbridge. The benches will be located in the wider “nodes” near the east and west ends of the bridge. Councilor Hurley estimated the benches would cost around $500 each. The money will come from a $5,000 account set aside over two years ago for this purpose.

    • Tabled a request from Waldo County Emergency Management Agency Director Dale Rowley to use an abandoned section of runway at the Belfast Municipal Airport as a staging site in the event of a natural disaster. Several councilors raised concerns that the county’s emergency plan did not include a role for the city’s elected officials. When natural disasters occur, they argued, citizens look to elected officials for leadership and information.

    • Changed rules for outer harbor moorings so that owners will now be required to use them once every two years or lose them. Currently there is no requirement to put a boat on a mooring in the outer harbor. Harbor Master Katherine Pickering said there are around 60-70 regularly unused moorings and that the new policy would be more lenient than in many municipalities.

    • Granted a poverty tax abatement of $1,435.87 to an unnamed party.

    In the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Our Town Belfast executive director Breanna Pinkham Bebb announced a call for entries for this year’s Please Be Seated installation of creative benches around the downtown. The deadline for proposals is March 18. More information at:

    Contact Ethan Andrews at: