Negotiating a public employee contract during an economic downturn is not easy — either on government officials or the unions.

Portland, like virtually every large community in Maine, has had to deal with a drop in tax collections, fewer permit fees and a decline in support from the state. It seems that the only source of revenue that hasn’t declined is federal assistance, and that help is scheduled to come to an abrupt halt next year.

Nevertheless, Portland has been able to come to terms with the union that represents its police patrolmen and detectives in a negotiation that was notably free of rancor and posturing.

The contract replaces one that expired last summer, and carries through to the end of 2011. It provides for modest raises, 1.5 percent for the first year and 1 percent for the final six months.

The union gives up its no-layoff guarantee, but because of the number of unfilled positions and the prospect that layoffs would lead to more overtime, cuts are unlikely in the short term. The size of the raises reflect the city’s precarious fiscal position, but not the contribution police make to the city’s quality of life.

All sides in this negotiation deserve credit for reaching a realistic compromise and avoiding the kind of chest-beating and finger-pointing that would do harm to the city.

This deal frees all sides from uncertainty in an otherwise uncertain year.

 


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