By Trevor Busch
The Taber Police Association and the Town of Taber have inked a new three-year collective agreement that will see officers receive a total 5.5 per cent salary increase by 2018.
Following lengthy negotiations in 2016, town council signed off on the deal at the conclusion of closed session discussion at their Sept. 26 regular meeting.
According to Taber Municipal Police Commission Chair Ken Holst, the three-year collective agreement sees a one per cent salary increase (retroactive to January 1) for 2016, a deferred (or split) 2.5 per cent in 2017, and a final two per cent in 2018.
“It’s a three-year contract, retro to January 1, 2016,” confirmed Taber Police Association president Dave Gyepesi, who represents officers for the service. “We agreed upon one per cent for 2016, a split in 2017 for one, and one and a half, and then a two per cent in 2018.”
Gyepesi indicated he believes the agreement strikes the right balance between fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of the municipality and the interests of the police service and its officers.
“Definitely weighted on the side of fiscal responsibility. It’s a difficult task for us as an association to keep pace with other police agencies in the province, but we also realize that we’re a small town, and the town has other priorities when it comes to finances and the budget, and we wanted to be as responsible as possible to help them with that, and I think we struck a really good balance.”
Commission chair Ken Holst commented on how “smoothly” the negotiations were concluded, but was careful to note that fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers was a paramount consideration.
“Overall, we were happy with how the negotiation went. There were many particulars of the contract that we worked on that needed to be cleaned up and clarified, other than just wage increase. It was done fairly smoothly and went fairly well. The association, and the commission, understand the Taber Police Service is the smallest service in the province, and so wages need to indicate as such. This continues for them to be the lowest paid of those services, yet we were worried about getting too far behind, and at some point having to play catch up to the other services.”
Holst pointed out that forcing the town’s hand through arbitration is an avenue to be avoided, as this takes much of the power of negotiation out of the hands of town officials.
“There was a rather large arbitration decision made in the province with the Edmonton Police Service recently, and we don’t ever want to have to go to an arbitration situation, and have our hands forced as to what the wage increases, or the wages need to be here.”
Gyepesi, representing the police association, suggested the service is aware of the need for fiscal restraint considering larger provincial and municipal economic concerns.
“We’re going to fall behind some of the services, especially compared to Lacombe, who are up for negotiation this year. But we understand that. We’ve cleared up some other things in our contract which we felt were important, and the process was a good one again. It took at little longer, but it was a good process again. We really put the community of Taber at the forefront when we did this contract, realizing the responsibilities and fiscal restraint that’s out there now. I think we struck a good balance.”
Holst reiterated his view that the new collective agreement is fair and equitable, factoring in inflation and increases to the cost of living.
“For sure it does. We definitely feel that we have a great service here, and does a great benefit to the town. It allows us to feel safe at night, and have the service that we do get from them — but we do realize there’s a cost to that. Provincially — think that it’s proper or not, as far as what that cost of policing is — that’s where it is provincially. It’s impossible, because of the association, the possibility anytime of arbitration, for us to stray too far away from that. So we are sort of bound that way. But yes, overall this is very close to the cost of annual inflation and the cost of living. So we definitely feel that it’s fair, especially with other areas of the contract that helped us from an overall cost savings.”
Following closed session (in camera) discussion at their Sept. 26 regular meeting, town council had voted unanimously to ratify the 2016-2018 Collective Agreement between the Town of Taber and the Taber Police Association.
A call placed to Mayor Henk DeVlieger for comment on the ratification of the collective agreement was not returned.