POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — In the wake of a police retention program approved by City of Poughkeepsie Common Council, firefighters are upset they haven’t been rewarded financially for not having a retention problem.
Sal Mauro, union president, said morale has diminished since firefighters signed what they thought was a fair contract in April. He said has worked for the department for 34 years, yet makes nearly $9,000 less a year than a police officer on the force for only five years.
“Our guys stay and our award for doing the right thing is to not get a raise or be told (the city) can’t afford it,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Common Council approved a plan intended to keep city police officers with the department. The retention plan increases the base salaries for veteran city officers, while also lowering the starting salary, reducing the department’s maximum officer positions from 96 to 92 and adding an expense to the city.
Mauro said he doesn’t have a problem with police receiving a raise. He believes they deserve more money. However, he said firefighters have approached him saying they feel like “second-class citizens.”
The current contract runs until Dec. 31, 2020, including increases of 2.5 percent 2017 and 2018, according to Mauro. He said there will be a 3 percent increase in 2019 and a 2 percent increase in 2020.
From 2012 until 2016, the fire department didn’t have a contract. In 2016, the Common Council unanimously approved a contract that spanned from Jan. 1, 2012 through the end of 2016, including increases of 1 percent for each year 2012 through 2014, a 1.25 percent increase for 2015 and 3 percent in 2016. But firefighters did not receive retroactive pay for those years.
“We thought the contract was fair with what everybody got,” Mauro said. “In trying to work with the city, we accepted modest raises that we felt were fair but we went years with zero percent raises. So we took some modest raises and again, we thought they were fair in lieu of the city telling us they had no money.”
In 2018, an firefighter applicant with no experience could be offered $42,984.85, a 2.5 percent increase from 2017, while a five-year firefighter could see a yearly salary of $68,989.92.
Before the retention program, city police chief Thomas Pape told Poughkeepsie Journal that the base salary in the department ranged from $56,000 for new officers to $77,000 for a five-year veteran.
Mayor Rob Rolison said he appreciates the hard work of all city employees and said a contract was recently made with the fire department.
“It’s in effect now and the police retention program with the Police Benevolent Association was necessary to solve a problem that was unique to the police department,” Rolison said. “If we did not address and continued to lose officers, to other high paying jobs, it would have put the department and public at risk.”
He said the city has made an effort to make sure the fire department has updated equipment since 2016.
“No one in city government feels that our firefighters, especially me, are looked at as second-class citizens,” Rolison said.”I don’t think it’s constructive to get into a back and forth on the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement with their union president in the newspaper.”