AMESBURY — Four new collectively bargained contracts with the city’s public employees were approved by the City Council during last night’s meeting, along with a new Affordable Housing Trust.
The three-year contracts were negotiated earlier this year by Mayor Thatcher Kezer and the union leaders representing Amesbury’s police, firefighters, Department of Public Works employees and administrative workers. The contracts include pay raises for public workers averaging 2 percent per year, along with concessions that Kezer argues will save the city money in the long run.
The council voted 8-1 to approve each of the contracts, with the exception of the DPW contract, which passed 7-1 after Councilor Derek Kimball recused himself from the vote. The vote will allow $120,400 to be appropriated to this year’s budget to fund the first year of the agreement. Councilor Donna McClure was the lone dissenting vote in each case.
Throughout the evening, much of the discussion among the councilors focused on the pay raises and the potential impact that the raises could have on taxpayers. McClure was vocal in her opposition to the pay raises, saying that the council needed to take a stand and commit itself to cutting costs and lowering taxes.
“I’m just not sure how much longer we’re going to sit here and say how much longer,” McClure said. “I think there needs to be some kind of understanding that the people we’re supposed to be representing are on the tipping point.”
Kezer has defended the agreements by highlighting earlier agreements reached with the unions regarding restructured health insurance deals that placed more of the costs on workers. As a result of those agreements, Kezer said the city would end up with a net savings of $251,006 this year even after adding the costs of the new agreements.
“The question that the councilors kept asking, ‘when is this going to stop, what can we do about it,’ well the whole structure of this agreement, when you calculate the increase in the contracts and the savings we got back from health insurance, for every dollar we’re paying in the contract increase, we’re getting $2.38 back in savings,” Kezer said. “That’s our approach of how we’re dealing with the increase in costs — we’re generating savings on the whole deal.”