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Councilors renew police pay hike debate, but don’t resolve issue

From left, City Councilors Bill Linehan, Sal LaMattina, and Rob Consalvo listened during Wednesday’s hearing.

The Boston Globe

From left, City Councilors Bill Linehan, Sal LaMattina, and Rob Consalvo listened during Wednesday’s hearing.

The City Council delved more deeply Wednesday into whether the city’s police patrol officers should receive a hefty pay raise, pressing the mayor’s financial team and the police union on the merits of the hot-button issue.

But after more than two hours of discussion, the council ended the day without a resolution, sparking fresh criticism that the council is dragging its feet.

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The council, which must approve the contract, has been pressed to hold a vote before the Nov. 5 municipal election on an arbitrator’s decision to give members of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association a 25.4 percent pay hike over the next six years, at an estimated cost of $80 million to taxpayers.

The contract pits Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has urged the council to reject the award to set a precedent, against the councilors, who have said they are unfairly asked to resolve a contract they had no role in crafting.

Some observers said the police pay package is in line with the compensation of city firefighters. Others have criticized the package as excessive, saying the city cannot afford it.

“The council seems wobbly in the knees,” said Jeffrey Michael Ross, a candidate for a citywide council seat who opposes the contract. “I call on the City Council to vote on the award before the election because voters deserve and should demand accountability, transparency, and openness from city government.’’

Council President Stephen J. Murphy had reconvened a hearing to demand answers from the mayor’s financial team and the police union. Murphy had said the council has been unfairly accused of trying to delay the vote, and argued that councilors must address key questions before taking action.

At the hearing Wednesday, members of Menino’s financial team said the city has the ability to meet its obligations in the contract.

But chief financial officer Meredith Weenick warned that the money would come from other departments and possibly necessitate job cuts.

She said that while the number of police, fire, and school personnel has remained largely unchanged, the city has lost some 1,000 workers in transportation, parks, and public works over the past decade, Weenick said.

“That is exactly how we afford to pay for what we are paying for today in our $2.6 billion budget,’’ Weenick told the board.

During the hearing, councilors questioned whether the contract will bring police pay in line with the pay of firefighters.

City officials have said that Boston firefighters and city police were paid an average of $109,000 in 2012, based on payroll records.

But the police union has contended that police earnings include overtime and details, which are paid for by separate companies. The union said that firefighters are now paid more and has urged the council to approve the contract.

That argument resonated with Councilor Bill Linehan, who said details and overtime should not be factors in any discussion of parity over fire and police pay.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to include that,’’ said Linehan, who added after the hearing that he is leaning toward approving the contract.

Unlike firefighters, he said, police officers seldom have the ability to work multiple jobs other than serving on the force.

“But firefighters have the ability to build other careers, plumbers, painters, lawyers, consultants,’’ Linehan said, “so it’s really unfair to include that in the discussion.”

Linehan also asked for a breakdown on the amount of overtime both firefighters and police officers are required to do.

Thomas Nee, president of the police union, responded that officers often work weekdays and weekends and hardly get time off during the summer.

“We attempted to get those back in this arbitration, but the arbiter rejected that,’’ Nee said at the hearing. “We think that rest is important. But it’s become all too commonplace in the Boston Police Department for officers to work 10 days a week.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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