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Penn Township commissioners approve five-year contract with police

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Seven months after outlining the tentative terms of the deal, Penn Township commissioners this week unanimously approved a five-year collective-bargaining agreement with the township police officers.

The new contract is retroactive to cover from Jan. 1, 2012, through the end of 2016.

Commissioner Paul Wersing said the contract negotiations, which began in summer 2011, were the longest of his 17 years on the board.

“Of course, you're not 100-percent always happy, but it did work out, and we're all grateful for that,” he said.

Under the terms, the township agreed to postpone the officers' 5-percent contribution to their health insurance premiums until Jan. 1, 2016. That's a three-year delay from the tentative terms announced last summer.

But township manager Bruce Light and finance director Linda Iams said that was a concession by the township after the Penn Township Police Wage and Policy Committee encouraged a switch in insurers from Highmark to UPMC that saved the township about $140,000 in the cost of premiums this year. The change also saved the township about $60,000 for the last half of 2012, Iams said.

In turn, commissioners paid some of that savings back to the officers in 2012 through one-time, $2,463 lump-sum payments. Officers will receive no other raise for 2012.

The continuing negotiations since last summer did not change the scheduled wage increases for officers for 2013 through 2016, when they will receive an annual $2,500 increase. That figure matches the annual raises of the last contract.

One new aspect is the implementation of a deferred-retirement-option plan that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Under that arrangement, an officer who is eligible for retirement may file to freeze his service credits and average salary but continue working for the township for as long as three years.

Another term includes a reduction in longevity pay — which rewards long-term, continuous employment – for officers who are hired after Jan. 1, 2013. Newly hired officers will receive an additional 1-percent salary increase per year up to a maximum of 10 years, down from the maximum of 20 percent in the past contract.

The pact also delays the reduction of paid holidays from 12 to 11 until 2016, when Lincoln's Birthday no longer will be counted as a paid holiday.

“At the end of the day, my gratitude is to both sides, who put forth the effort — a lot of effort — to bring this to a resolution in a way that works best for both sides,” police Chief John Otto said.

Solar-ordinance grant

A new grant will help the township update its zoning ordinance by addressing solar panels.

Commissioners last week authorized a letter of commitment for the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative, which will provide a $1,000 grant to cover a legal review and advertisement of a federally crafted ordinance for new solar panels.

Light said the timing is “dead on” because the township is in the midst of redoing its zoning ordinance.

“We reviewed it. It has great diagrams. We could just slip it right into our ordinance,” Light said. “That way, solar installers … will have the same rules (and) the same regulations to go from community to community to help keep the insulation costs down (and) keep the requirements uniform crossing the municipal lines.”

Light said there are about five residences in the township that have solar panels.

Light said he doesn't know if other Westmoreland County municipalities are looking into the program. Last fall, the environmental advocacy group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future said it was using a $317,000 SunShot grant to draft solar regulations for 22 Allegheny County municipalities.

Criminal case fee

Commissioners last week expanded a criminal-case processing fee to cover all felonies and misdemeanors, not just incidents for driving under the influence.

In doing so, the police department estimates it will collect another $7,000 in fees this year by charging $50 per case at the district judge's office, Light said.

Police requested the change after determining they spend about as much time to process many felonies and misdemeanors as they do for cases of intoxicated driving, Light said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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