Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Heated negotiations between the town and Agawam Police Patrolman's Union are still ongoing over two months after the union's contract expired on June 30.
Mark Poggi, president of the Agawam Police Patrolman's Union said the union is asking for a four percent raise for the next three years in order to earn a wage comparable to that of neighboring towns. At this time, Poggi added, Agawam patrolmen are the lowest paid in the region.
According to figures collected by Reminder Publications, the weekly base salary for a new police patrolman in Agawam is $744.66; the salary in West Springfield is $816.99 per week and the salary in Springfield is $883.
However Poggi said the town has offered the union only a 2.5 percent increase over the next three years, which he said is "insulting."
"I know we have a thankless job and the first initial offer was two percent, which would have been $12 - 13 a week, which barely covers the cost of insurance," he said.
Poggi added that in order to boost their weekly pay patrolmen work overtime and outside detail jobs for contractors.
Poggi, who has been with the Agawam Police Department for 28 years said he made $90,000 last year. However, he added that $20,000 of his income was in retroactive pay from 2005 and 2006 and $20,000 was in overtime.
In a statement released by Richard Cohen, mayor of Agawam, he said, "I am a tough negotiator. I am very mindful of what our public safety personnel and our other employees do for our community; however I also have to be cautious over what our residents can afford."
Cohen told Reminder Publications that negotiations are "give and take" and he has to "negotiate in the best interests of the city." He said he has asked for bi-weekly pay in addition to other compromises.
Poggi and Gary O'Brien, vice president of the Agawam Police Patrolman's Union said another reason for the needed increase in pay is the influx of population and crime.
O'Brien, who has been with the Agawam Police Department for 25 years said over the past 10 years he has seen a dramatic rise in the number of drug and domestic dispute complaints in the town. He said they are dealing with cases most often associated with urban areas.
"Ten years ago we didn't even deal with heroin," O'Brien said. "You never saw this before. The whole public's demeanor has changed. You can't even give someone a parking ticket without them yelling and screaming at you."
O'Brien added that he and other officers are now using pepper spray and their batons more frequently because of the increase physical violence against them. He said that 10 years ago those protective measures were rarely needed.
When asked about the increased level of crime in Agawam Cohen said, "They are certainly not working in Boston or Hartford, but working in a community of 28,000 people. We don't have the same issues of crime that other urban communities in our area have."
A mediation between the mayor and the union will take place Sept. 26, according to John Connor, attorney for the Agawam Police Patrolman's Union.
"We've been trying to convince this mayor that they deserve more pay," Connor said. "Those efforts have failed and we do believe that the public needs to understand that this is something that needs to be addressed."
Connor added that the increase would not only "get them on par with other area departments" but also keep the current officers in Agawam rather than going to neighboring towns to earn a higher salary.
He said the town needs to commit to paying the officers what they are worth, especially because the town only has 36 patrolmen, the same as 32 years ago, even with the increased population and crime.
Poggi said there are six vacancies that have yet to be filled.
Connor said the union hopes to come to an agreement at the mediation later this month. However if that does not occur the union will pursue interest arbitration.
"I have 36 patrolmen in the union and families that would like their pay," Poggi said. "We would like a solution."