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Insurance for part-timers debated in Salem

SALEM — City council held first reading on an ordinance to provide medical insurance to permanent part-time police dispatchers working at least 36 hours per week.

An effort by Councilman Geoff Goll to amend the ordinance to include part-time police officers failed after nobody would second his motion, but there was plenty of back-and-forth commenting on the move, including by Mayor John Berlin. Berlin said there’s no problem in the part-time police division and the police department made no request regarding insurance for part-time officers.

During a recent Finance Committee meeting, Berlin presented the proposal regarding insurance for dispatchers, noting there was a problem with dispatchers going through the state-required extensive training while with the city and then leaving for full-time jobs with insurance elsewhere. He said the plan was to increase the hours for three dispatchers to 36 hours each and provide them with health insurance in an effort to get them to stay.

He said this could increase stability in the dispatching unit for the police department.

Goll argued that the city should also provide insurance to part-time police officers. The city trains them and then they leave. He said if he was working as a part-time officer and was told dispatchers were getting insurance and he wasn’t, he would resent it.

“I think it’s incumbent on this city to provide health insurance for those people who are in danger. We can afford to do that,” he said.

Berlin said during his eight years as mayor, he’s brought to council issues concerning funding and he’ll continue bringing proposals with detailed analysis, but he will not ask for anything that’s not needed. In this case, he said the part-time officers were brought on to help cut down on overtime. They get experience and move on and when a full-time job in Salem opens up they sometimes come back.

He said if there was a problem, he would come to council, but there isn’t.

Councilman Sal Salvino asked if the department requested it and the answer was no.

“If it’s not requested, let’s not delve into it,” Salvino said.

“I’m not going to spend the public’s money on something that’s not a problem,” Berlin said.

Councilman Roy Paparodis said he didn’t remember council being involved in wages and benefits usually, except if an ordinance was brought forward for approval.

“I don’t know that it’s our place to be managing the departments,” he said.

Councilman Ron Zellers asked the mayor if any of the part-time police officers have insurance through another job. He didn’t know, saying possibly they could through a spouse, but he didn’t know if that was the case.

Goll commented “I guess council’s only allowed to discuss issues brought by the mayor?” He also made some comments about not seeing any proposals from the mayor regarding the part-time officers and claimed he probably didn’t talk to the chief about it. The issue had been discussed at a previous committee meeting, with the auditor asked to prepare some information regarding the cost for providing insurance to all the permanent part-time employees of the city.

After the meeting, Berlin took issue with some of Goll’s statements, saying that the auditor provided a spreadsheet to members of the Finance Committee two weeks ago regarding the costs for insurance for all permanent part-time employees. He said Goll had a perfect opportunity to bring it up during the Finance Committee meeting which preceded the council meeting, but he didn’t. Berlin also said he spoke to the chief.

Goll said he didn’t get an email regarding the part-time police officers but did acknowledge the one received for all permanent part-time employees. Null, who chairs Finance, also said he received the email.

Two more readings are required before approval of the ordinance.

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