Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hardin City Council declines $25,000 increase in law enforcement budget

Teamsters Union agreement approved
The Hardin City Council turned down a request by the Big Horn County commissioners for the city to pay an additional $25,000 to help with law enforcement costs. 
 
In a two-year agreement between the city and county that expired today, the county paid $2,175,000 – or 84 percent – of the public safety costs and the city paid $425,000 – or 16 percent.
The estimated increase in the law enforcement budget for the year, which now stands at more than $2.6 million annually, is $68,000. As the city declined to pay their allotted 37 percent of the increase, the full amount now falls to the county.
 
The increase, according to county officials, is designed to cover the rising costs of health care for county jail detainees, office supplies, liability insurance and vehicle maintenance. County Commissioner Chad Fenner said if the county or city aren’t able to come up with $68,000, they’ll have to cut law enforcement services.
 
“I don’t want that,” he said. “Nobody wants that.”
 
According to Fenner, the Bighorn Valley Health Center in Hardin is helping to defray costs by aiding in the medical care of detainees. 
 
During a meeting last Thursday with the county, the city also offered guns and a car for county use from Hardin’s past attempt to form a city police force. In addition, the city said they might add $25,000 to their law enforcement payments next year.
 
“We didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Fenner said. “We’re still thinking about it.”
 
During the city council meeting, aldermen said they made this decision not because they had a problem with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office, but because they believed the city shouldn’t be the entity to foot the bill for the increase.
 
Mayor Jack Lane said during the meeting that the council believed they were being taxed twice, once as a citizen of the city and once as a citizen of the county. 
 
The council members backed him up on this assessment.
 
“Let me state this very clearly, I think the sheriff’s department in this town does an awesome job; that’s not what I’m complaining about,” Alderman Clayton Greer said. “It’s just, at what expense? Speaking for my constituents, that’s a lot of money.”
 
The county will be meeting with Sheriff Frank Simpson on July 30 to discuss financial options.
 
Union approval
 
An agreement between the City of Hardin and Teamsters Union Local 190 was approved, which recognizes the union as “the sole and exclusive bargaining agent” for all city employees. Seasonal employees are exempt from joining the union, but the city may not use them in an effort to circumvent the agreement.
 
According to the agreement all city employees must – after 30 days on the job – either become or remain members in good standing with the union, or pay a monthly fee based on the cost of representation.
 
Speaking from his office Tuesday morning, Teamsters business representative James Soumas said it felt good to have the agreement approved.
 
“We’ve worked through the process of getting an initial agreement put in place,” he said, “and I think it will be a good thing for the employees there.”
 
The contract covers subjects including seniority, the grievance procedure, working hours, leaves of absence and insurance.
 
The union held a vote on July 16, much to the consternation of city worker Steve Hopes, who said during the council meeting that he’d been led to believe by Soumas that they wouldn’t be making a final decision. 
 
Had he known they were going to vote, he said, he would have canceled his plans for a camping trip – made before the meeting was scheduled – and attended the meeting.
 
“I talked to the [representative] in the parking lot with one of my coworkers and asked him if there was going to be a vote on the contract. He said ‘no,’” Hopes said. “I said I couldn’t be there, but there were some things I wanted to discuss with him and the rest of us.
 
“I leave and get as far as Parkman. I get a phone call. They voted without a couple of us being there.”
 
The overall attendance at the union meeting represented the majority of workers. 
 
According to Soumas, most of the people present at the meeting wanted to vote on the agreement.
 
Despite Hopes’ reservations, City Attorney Robert Snively said the agreement at hand – following the workers’ vote – was to be negotiated between the union and the city, not the city and an employee. 
 
“We’re obligated to deal with the union representative,” he said, “not individual employees.”
 
Agreement stipulations, according to council, seemed relatively run-of-the-mill, though Alderman Kenny Kepp wanted to wait until the next meeting to have more time to read the agreement.
The motion to approve the agreement passed 3-2 with Aldermen Greer, Karen Molina and Randy Angevine for it; and Aldermen Kepp and Jerry Wemple against.
 
“You guys are now union members,” Lane said.
 
“Gee, thanks,” Hopes responded.
 
The next city council meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
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