By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Police officers didn’t get the retirement health care they wanted, but after about 10 months of negotiation, a contract was signed Wednesday night by the police union and commission members of the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Department.
“It’s been a long road” through the collective bargaining process, said officer Shawn Kuhns, president of the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Association, as he, commission member Judy Wagner and Chief Paul Yost signed off on a pension plan.
At issue for the regional police department, which began operating as one Feb. 6, was that officers of the former East Buffalo Township force had received, and will continue to get, health care as a retirement benefit. They are half of the Buffalo Valley force.
Former Lewisburg borough officers and new hires will not receive that benefit. The union sought to get it across the board but ultimately could not, Kuhns said.
The compromise, he said, was extra time off, available to all officers, “but it’s a minor compromise,” adding there is some consternation among officers regarding the retirement health care.
“Like anything else, there are rocks in the road” with something new like the regional police, Kuhns said. “It gets smoother as you go. Anything new, you have a difference in the way things are done.”
The new contract goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. The regional police began operations under both contracts. The union has been negotiating with the police commission since December.
Kuhns would not comment on salaries or monetary compensation in the new contract, which covers four years.
With the pension signed, plans from both sides finally may merge into one. It’s been a concern of commission member Thomas Zorn as the East Buffalo funds were moved into a low-interest bearing account waiting for the issue to be resolved.
The commission needs to take further action on the pension, including adopting an ordinance under state recommendations, to merge the accounts and to choose an investment plan.
Yost said he’s happy the contract has been signed and the department can focus on functioning as a solid law enforcement agency.
In other business:
n Yost said the department’s projected 2013 budget stands at $2.4 million. The commission will hold a work session on the budget Oct. 24.
n Part-time officer Jason Engleman resigned after being pulled full-time into the Milton Police Department. Engleman had been the Milton Area School District’s student resource officer until funding for the position was cut. Yost didn’t know if another part-time officer would be hired immediately.
n Attorney Graham Showalter was honored for his contributions to making the regional police force a reality. Showalter performed pro-bono work in the joint effort and also had pursued a regional police force during his years as Union County district attorney.