What’s Fair and What’s Enough…, Negotiating A New Police Contract

As of June 1, the wage and benefit contract for Sleepy Hollow’s Police Department was two years past due. Currently, the Department and the Village are in negotiations while also pursuing arbitration should these negotiations be jettisoned, as they were in the spring of 2005.

In an April 4, 2005 letter addressed to Mayor Zegarelli, police officer Anthony Bueti Jr.

imageswrote in his capacity as PBA President. The tone of the letter was accusatory and a sense of frustration permeated it. One paragraph started off by saying, "Our two brief meetings in the beginning of 2005 were fruitless, as you did not discuss a viable contract proposal with us. Additionally, since our last meeting in early March, you have failed to even schedule a time to meet with us, vaguely promising to ‘meet sometime this week’ and then not making yourself available to actually meet. Your acts have caused detriment to the PBA, which, relying upon your word that you wanted to meet informally, cancelled a negotiation meeting between the New York State Union of Police Association and the Village attorneys." Officer Buetti went on to address the Mayor by saying, "Furthermore, any informal contract proposal previously offered to you by any representative of the PBA is hereby revoked."

We talked to both Mayor Zegarelli and Officer Bueti, who is a resident of Sleepy Hollow, about current negotiations and what they hope to achieve. Mr. Zegarelli started off wanting to clarify an important point from his perspective. "Back in April of last year we had been meeting with the PBA and we had a four to five year proposal for a long-term settlement with the police, similar to what we do with the teamsters. (Department of Public Works personnel come under this contract.) Then I got this nasty letter which they wouldn’t retract and all things were off the table so to speak." The Mayor went on to share his perception about the PBA and the New York State Union of Police Association (NYSUPA). "The entire PBA has changed in how they act tactically. What they’ve been doing here is what they have done in at least four other Westchester communities. They either mailed or hand delivered a letter to every resident in the Village of Sleepy Hollow. In Chappaqua they picketed Hillary Clinton, wanting to make sure they were on the news. They ended up with egg on their face over there. They’ve even applied for a permit to picket here in front of Village Hall, but the day they were supposed to, we were in negotiations with them," the Mayor said.

On a base salary the Sleepy Hollow Police Department is on the lower end in comparison to other Westchester communities. Mr. Zegarelli conceded that and made the point that after 5 years on the force a patrolman with a high school education has a base salary of $67,000. "We have individuals in their twenties that earn $87,000 annually with overtime which is a choice sometimes and not a choice others because of our needs. People are being well paid. We have a sergeant whose base salary is roughly $87,000 and he earned $111,000 with overtime," he said. In Sleepy Hollow the police have unlimited sick time. "We pay people if they’re sick or if they’re out literally forever. We have a case in particular where we are trying to fire the guy who has been out for over a year and we have paid him his salary. We’ve had people who had non-police related injuries and they were paid for several months. I don’t know of many other communities that have unlimited sick time. When you look at all of our benefits and you balance them out, the Village of Sleepy Hollow isn’t too shabby," he added.

According to Sleepy Hollow officials, of the thirteen Village employees who earned in excess of $100,000 for 2005, eleven of them were police officers. Under the current administration the police have received a new police desk, two to three new police cars annually, a variety of new schooling opportunities, a K-9 unit, a new locker room, new computers and 9mm Glock handguns. It is conservatively estimated that the Police Department has received $1,300,000 in new equipment and construction over the past eight years.

In closing Mr. Zegarelli said, What is really happening here is that the police union is pitting one community against another. "They say, Scarsdale’s got this, Ardsley’s got that and Tarrytown has this. Well, Sleepy Hollow has a different tax base. They don’t tell you that. They also don’t tell you that we have a lot here. "

Officer Anthony Bueti Jr. was born in Tarrytown and grew up in North Tarrytown. He attended Pocantico Hills School and Briarcliff High School. He has been a patrolman in Sleepy Hollow for the past four years and prior to that was a New York City policeman for four years as well. He is currently the president of the Sleepy Hollow PBA. When asked what the issue is between the PBA and the Village of Sleepy Hollow he said, "We are the lowest paid department out of all the villages and towns in much of the county. We’re not trying to be the highest paid we just want to be somewhere like the lower middle or middle." According to Officer Bueti the starting salary for a rookie officer is $23, 281 in addition to benefits. Information submitted by the Village differed from Officer Bueti and put the base salary for a rookie at $25,324. Regardless, both Officer Bueti and the Village confirmed that after five years the salary had risen to $67,281 accompanied by benefits. When asked if he thought that amount of money was valid compensation for an individual with a high school education he answered, "I really have never thought about that. What I can say is that Tarrytown starts out around $6,000 higher than we do and they top out at $76,000 in five years." That comparison with the Tarrytown Police Department was mentioned often during the conversation and Sleepy Hollow’s sister village was held out as the yardstick to be compared to. The actual breakdown for the 26 man SHPD is 1 Chief, 2 Lieutenants, 4 Sergeants, 2 Detectives and 17 Police Officers. The total expenditures in salary and benefits for the Department were $3,121,052 in 2005/06.

According to Officer Bueti the PBA has presented a proposal whereby some of the lower paying steps for beginning officers are removed and that the starting pay be brought up to $30,000. "With arbitration we can expect a decision by November or December, and the trouble with that is that it is good for only two years. By the time they make a decision we will have already used up six months on our contract," he said. He went on to add that the PBA has been in binding arbitration now for two contract periods back to back. "We’re not trying to bad mouth anyone in the Village. We just want everyone in the public to know that we’re not complainers," he said. When asked whether the police intended to picket outside Village Hall he said that the PBA had scheduled to do that for the end of July but that an actual date had not been set.

There’s an adage that states that a good contract is when nobody is happy. It remains to be seen what the results will be in Sleepy Hollow.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento