PHOENIX — After working without a contract for more than six months, city police employees will be offered a new contract that will include a dozen furlough days and the loss of one position in the department.
City officials are hopeful the belt-tightening will be short-lived for the cash-strapped town, which has been in and out of labor negotiations since last spring.
Union contracts are typically in place by July 1, or late summer in some cases, but City Manager Eli Naffah said Phoenix's limited financial resources and holiday schedules had delayed negotiations.
While both city employees (City Hall and public works) and police have been without a contract, Naffah said union officials had recently granted final approval for a contact for other city employees.
With close to a $100,000 deficit in the general fund, Naffah said, city officials were faced with trimming 5 percent from police costs and 2.5 percent from City Hall and public works employees.
"Part of the reason negotiations have taken so long is because we were negotiating without much money. If we had money in our pockets, things would have been a little different."
Naffah said city officials were hopeful that union officials would grant final approval on Monday to the city's latest offer after many months of executive sessions.
Despite being housed in a mobile home deemed temporary a half-dozen years ago, chief Derek Bowker said the Police Department is still providing the same number of patrol shifts.
The position to be cut from the department is a nonuniformed records clerk.
Bowker, who said he had heard of similar struggles in other local police departments, said officers had pitched in to help with reception and record keeping tasks.
"The department has been working on an expired contract since July 1 but there has been absolutely no degradation of services and we're providing the same coverage to the community," Bowker said. "Management voluntarily took a cut in hours and pay.
"We're in a doublewide trailer with a leaking roof, but we're still providing the service we're paid for and we're doing a good job."
Teamsters Local Union No. 223 representative Brent Jensen concurred that limited financial resources for the city, and in other cities, had made for longer negotiations in recent years, but said some added "micromanaging" by the City Council had added to the delays.
"I can share that part of the union's frustration was our perception that the city negotiation team was not given clear parameters on what they could agree to. We would make a proposal and, more often than not, the response was, 'We'll have to go back and check with the City Council,'" Jensen said Thursday.
"That's a little bit unfamiliar to me in my work. Usually a team is established and the city council gives certain parameters to their negotiation team and they say, 'You guys work it out.' There is some micromanaging, I'll use that word, by the City Council in this case."
Naffah said the city's financial situation required more council involvement in the recent process.
"There might have been more flexibility but in our case, because we didn't have a budget that was in the black, it made negotiations much more difficult," Naffah said, noting that paying off a loan had put the city in a tight financial spot but would eventually improve things overall.
"We're hoping that paying off that loan will make things better in the long term. And there's only so long that the economy can be flat. It has to start picking up soon."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at email@example.com.