Council OKs funds for police position

Published 8:50 pm Monday, February 8, 2010

After several months of discussion, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday unanimously approved the transfer of $35,000 from the city’s contingencies fund to the police department budget in order to prevent one officer from being laid off.

The transfer matches $35,000 in concessions recently made by the police department, which include a combination of unpaid leave, a reduction in the uniform allowance and a reduction in hourly employees’ holiday pay, among other things.

“I’m very encouraged and quite frankly impressed that the entire department came together to find this solution,” Councilor Ellen Kehr said. “It speaks to their commitment to each other and to their commitment to the community.”

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The decision most directly effects the department’s most junior officer, Steve Charboneau, who had received his layoff notice Jan. 7 after the union and the city were previously unable to reach an agreement about saving the position.

The position had been in limbo for several months after the council had to cut more than $1 million from its 2010 budget and the Police Department could not find grant funding to save the position.

“I’m just really grateful that the community gets the public safety they have the last few years,” Charboneau said. “I’m glad I work with a good group of guys and women, too, who’ve made a sacrifice. This shows their true commitment.”

Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said he was pleased with the council’s decision.

“Anytime we have more officers on the street, there’s a benefit to the community,” Winkels said.

He pointed out that the entire department is participating with the concessions, including himself and the police lieutenants. Many dispatch members have also jumped on board.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh said while the vote may not be a sustainable action, it will get the city through 2010.

It will also allow the city to continue to expand its community policing efforts, Councilor Vern Rasmussen said.

Now that the transfer was approved, the city manager, police chief and union business agents and stewards will next sign a memorandum of understanding which outlines the specific concessions agreed upon by the police unit of the union.

The following are the concessions included:

Employees will either take four hours of unpaid leave during each of the four quarters of the year or donate four hours of holiday time accrual during the last accrual period of each of the quarters.

This equals out to 16 hours of unpaid time or leave hours that will be given back to the city for each employee.

Hourly employees agree to temporarily suspend holiday premium pay, which gives time and a half pay, and instead work each paid holiday for straight time.

Patrol officers will reduce their semi-annual uniform allowance from $350 to $100.

When the value of the concessions ($35,000) is reached, the concessions will be discontinued the following pay period.

The concessions will be null and void on Dec. 31 or if the Police Department drops below 20 full-time patrol officers by means of lay-off, termination, attrition, voluntary separation, retirement, death or promotion, according to the memo.

Look to for more Tuesday afternoon about the Monday council meeting.