Those on both sides of the police union contract negotiations agreed on one point. The issue at stake is retention, keeping police officers satisfied enough with their compensation that they do not jump ship to another department.

Both Marco Island Police Department Chief Al Schettino, and Police Benevolent Association representative Officer John Derrick noted that as the key point in agreeing on terms for a new union contract, to replace the one that expires in October.

“We want to have retention,” said Derrick. “If we don’t get paid close to Naples or Collier County (Sheriff’s Office) people a lot of people will leave. Currently,” he said, they earn “substantially less than those.”

Along with MIPD Officer Paul Ashby and PBA chapter president Matt Sellers, a retired Fort Myers policeman, Derrick represented the approximately 33 non-exempt officers of the Marco Island Police Department – sergeants and below – in the contract talks. On the other side of the table, interim City Manager Gil Polanco and Schettino represented city government.

The negotiators met Tuesday morning in the Niles Conference Room at City Hall. Over a dozen uniformed officers, including lieutenants and captains not covered by the bargaining agreement, filled most of the chairs in the room, meaning there were 15 or 16 people in the room packing heat. Schettino echoed the point about retention.

“We’re looking to retain all our good officers,” he said. “There’s so much competition” in hiring law enforcement officers. We have to be competitive.” Interestingly, when the last police union contract was negotiated in 2013, Schettino was on the other side as a union representative, before he was appointed chief of police by then-city manager Roger Hernstadt.

Schettino said that beyond what they earn today, it is critical for members of the force to be able to plan for the future.

“An officer needs to know what he’ll make five years from now, as a minimum,” he said. “The issue is boiling down to pay raises and a step system.”

Polanco was half an hour late to the meeting, explaining he had been “putting out a fire” – although with Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy among those who sat in on the contract session, that perhaps would have been a chance for Polanco to delegate.

The talks were friendly, collegial, which Assistant Police Chief Dave Baer, who was tied up in another meeting, said is typical of a smaller department in which the negotiators work with each other on a daily basis. Both sides came to agreement on a number of stipulations about working conditions and procedures, including overtime pay and extra compensation for, say, a sergeant doing a lieutenant’s job.

“That’s all the easy stuff. Now it comes down to how much money is available,” said Polanco. “We’ll know by tomorrow.”

The union contract talks took place on election day, the same Tuesday when Marco Island voters were deciding whether to take on running their own emergency medical system. That vote, the outcome of which was of course not known during the meeting, could have a significant impact on the PBA talks, said Polanco.

If the local EMS proposal was not approved by the voters – and it was not – that would make available approximately an additional $2 million for the upcoming budget year. The millage rate, affecting tax collections by the city, is also currently being worked out, and that will figure into the police department funding as well.

PBA chapter president Sellers is in the middle of conducting contract negotiations in three police departments in his territory that includes Collier, Lee and Hendry Counties. The Fort Myers PD just came to agreement on a proposed contract, that will be presented to the Fort Myers City Council on Sept. 4.

Among other law enforcement departments in Collier County, the Naples Police Dept. is represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Collier Sheriff’s Office deputies are not covered by a union agreement.

On Marco Island, union and city negotiators agreed to meet again at 10 a.m., Monday, Sept. 10. The first meeting was on July 26.

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