The Municipal Accountability Review Board approved a police contract between the beleaguered City of West Haven and the city’s police union despite concerns about how the contract would affect a city in severe financial distress.
City officials said the contract, which awards West Haven police officers $10,000 raises on top of a contractually obligated 2.5 percent raise and increased cost of living adjustments for retirees, was necessary to retain police officers in West Haven, who are paid less than officers in nearby communities.
The police contract was initially a point of contention for the board when they initially rejected West Haven’s 2023 budget.
Board members were concerned over the use of one-time funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for raises, which may not be allowable under federal guidelines and the on-going cost of increasing retiree payments, which some board members argued would not increase police recruitment or retention.
Ultimately, the board voted 6-3 to approve the contract, saying they were not going to question the decisions made by the city as they had presented a plan to pay for the contract, along with a five-year plan for the city. They also approved West Haven’s 2023 budget.
The police raises are funded for the first two years with ARPA funds, according to the city’s budget submitted to the MARB. Rejection of the contract would have sent West Haven back to the negotiating table and possibly to arbitration if the review board rejected the contract again.
According to the city’s five-year plan submitted to the MARB, police operations are forecast to increase from $11.9 million in 2023 to $15 million by 2027.
Overall, the city expects revenue to grow from $165.5 million in 2022 to $177.1 million by 2027, with most of that increase coming from an increase in property tax mill rates amounting to $10 million by 2027.
West Haven is currently under the strictest state oversight following years of fiscal problems, mismanagement and the alleged theft of $1.2 million in COVID relief funds by some of the city’s employees, including former state representative Michael DiMassa and John Bernardo.
Bernardo plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud this past week.