AUGUSTA — City councilors and police patrol officers and supervisors approved a new contract that will increase the pay of some officers by about 20 percent over two years, though police will be picking up a larger share of their health insurance premiums, offsetting some of that salary increase.

The deal was reached after union and city negotiators agreed that Maine police departments of similar size were paying their officers significantly more than Augusta did, and the city was increasingly at a competitive disadvantage in attracting new officers.

“We were way below the market, so we’ve made some substantial adjustments to their pay scale,” City Manager William Bridgeo said. “In the end, the mayor and all members of the City Council recognized we want high-quality folks recruited into the Police Department, and retained, and we can’t do that if they’re making 20 percent less than officers in comparable departments in the region,”

The increased pay isn’t likely to have a big financial effect this fiscal year because the increase is retroactive only to Jan. 1, and the fiscal year ends June 30. However, next year the increased police pay is expected to increase the police budget by about $200,000.

Mike Edes, a labor representative from the National Fraternal Order of Police who negotiated on behalf of two bargaining units – one representing patrol officers; the other, sergeants and lieutenants in the department – said the union was able to show that comparable Maine police agencies were paying significantly more than Augusta.

He said city officials, after doing their own checking, agreed, which made negotiations smoother because the interests of both sides were similar – having a police force that pays competitively.

“The city and the police association wanted to make the Augusta Police Department competitive in the marketplace, and they weren’t,” Edes said Friday. “The city really stepped up.”

Edes and Bridgeo noted police agreed to pick up a significantly bigger share of the cost of their insurance as part of the deal, with some officers going from paying only 6 percent of their health costs to 20 percent.

Bridgeo said police also agreed to switch to a health insurance plan that will be cheaper for the city.

“You’ve got to look at the whole package there. It’s a good wage increase, but a lot of that was a swap-off for absorbing more of the health insurance,” Edes said, estimating the increased share of health insurance premiums will offset about six percentage points – or 30 percent – of the wage increase.

Barbara Gabri, the city’s human resources director, said the goal is to bring all employees up to competitive market rates to help attract and keep quality workers.

Bridgeo said negotiations are ongoing with firefighters, as well as with public safety dispatchers.

He said each group stands alone in negotiating contracts, but the city recognizes the need to look at the market and make efforts to keep Augusta competitive to attract and keep quality employees.

Bridgeo said so far the city still has been able to attract applicants for jobs, but doing so increasingly is becoming a problem. The city has struggled, for example, to attract snowplow truck drivers.

Councilors approved the contracts unanimously Thursday.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj