The Bangor City Council approved a new contract with city police and firefighters Wednesday that restores a popular pension plan in an effort to boost recruitment and slow a high rate of police turnover.
The new contract, which goes into into effect on July 1, will give police and firefighters the option to choose between the Maine State Retirement plan — where employees get roughly 50 percent of wages after 25 years of service, depending on rank — and the existing 401a plan (which is similar to a 401k), where the city will make a flat 10.5 percent contribution on each weekly paycheck.
The new police and fire contracts will also include a 3 percent annual raise for the next three years. Rich Cromwell, the city’s human resources officer, could not immediately provide the total dollar amount of the raises.
The move comes after police Chief Mark Hathaway told city councilors in November that retention was one of the single biggest challenges facing his department, which has lost roughly a third of its officers since 2013. About of half of those who left accepted other jobs. The churn has produced one of the youngest city police forces in years and adds stress and costs in a department already short four officers, police say.
The fire department hasn’t seen the same kind of turnover, “but it’s starting to happen” as many begin to retire, Cromwell said.
City Council Chairman Ben Sprague agreed with police that a number of factors are causing turnover, but said that retirement was a priority. The city dropped the pension in 1999 because it was too costly, and police have been trying to get it back since, according to the city.
“We take the recruitment and retention issues seriously,” Sprague said.
Cromwell called the 3 percent increase “significant” for the city, when compared with previous years. But it’s not as dramatic as steps taken by other other Maine departments. Augusta, for instance, voted in February to increase cops’ wages 20 percent over two years, in exchange for officers taking on a higher share of costs associated with their health care.
Under the current contract, police received no pay increase in 2015, a 1.25 percent increase in 2016, and a 1.5 percent increase in 2017, Cromwell said.
A representative for the police union did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new contract. John York, a representative for the Bangor Professional Firefighters Union, thanked councilors on Wednesday for approving the deal.
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