By Tim O’Meilia
More than two years after collective bargaining began, the seaside towns of Manalapan and South Palm Beach signed three-year agreements with their unionized police departments in January.
While similar in length and many other details, the contracts differ vastly in wages.
Manalapan’s eight union members will receive 7 percent pay raises retroactive to Oct. 1, 2011, and another 3 percent retroactive to Oct. 1, 2012. They’ll receive another 2 percent increase in October and 3 percent more in October 2014.
South Palm Beach’s five officers will get a one-time $1,500 bonus. They’ll receive a $1,000 bonus in October or have the right to reopen wage talks.
Another major difference is that Manalapan officers’ raises are increases to their base pay while South Palm Beach’s are not.
The rate of base pay is significant because it’s used to calculate an employee’s future pension benefits.
Manalapan town commissioners approved the agreement by a 5-1 vote Jan. 22, the same day South Palm Beach council members unanimously approved their deal.
“The majority of the commissioners felt our officers’ compensation and benefits had fallen relative to other communities,” Manalapan Mayor Basil Diamond said after the meeting. “We used to be in the top one, two or three (in pay and benefits). We had fallen to the middle. It was felt we should bring the officers back to what they were.”
The starting salary for a Manalapan police officer is $43,677, 15th among 25 police departments in Palm Beach County, according to an annual survey done by the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association. The PBA represents the police in both towns.
Dissenting Manalapan Commissioner David Cheifetz said the commission should not have accepted the union’s second proposal.
“The Town Commission should have been more aggressive in negotiating the contract. We’re setting the stage for additional problems in the future,” he said.
Manalapan commissioners did not plan for the wage increase in this year’s budget and will have to dip into reserves for the $49,000 needed.
The town’s other 22 full-time employees, including those who work in the water department, received 2 percent raises last year and a 3.5 percent lump-sum increase this year.
“The non-union employees will not be happy,” Cheifetz said.
South Palm Beach’s contract talks went to impasse, then to a special magistrate before a face-to-face council-union negotiating session resulted in a tentative agreement in October. A misunderstanding over whether officers could go to lunch across the bridge led to more delay.
South Palm Beach officers had not received a pay raise in four years, like other town workers, as the town dealt with budget problems resulting from a 40 percent decline in property value in the town since 2008.
South Palm Beach union members said they were pleased they would have the chance to seek an increase to their base rate of pay next year, if they wished. Initially, the union sought a 1 percent pay increase to their base pay.
According to the PBA survey, starting officers in South Palm Beach earn $40,500, the fourth-lowest among 25 departments.
In December, the Town Council decided unanimously against giving the town’s other six full-time workers a bonus to match the police.