Despite skepticism, council votes to restore police OT; school nurse funding

By Aaron Keebaugh

 

The city council, in majority votes Monday night, restored two items in the budget that only months ago were cut as a cost-saving measure.

Councillors voted 9–1 to restore $114,000 to the police department’s Quinn Overtime Bill. Council President Richard Penta cast the dissenting vote. Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Reardon was absent.

During a meeting of the Ways and Means Subcommittee earlier that afternoon, Penta held fast to the cuts, which he had asked the council to enact during budget discussions this past summer. “We’re one of the only cities who pay 100% of the Quinn Bill,” he said, adding that the funds should all be placed in a separate overtime account. The structure hasn’t been changed in fifteen years and “it’s a pet peeve of mine” that there has been resistance to any alteration, he said. “That it’s been done [in the past] isn’t good enough.”

In a letter to the council two weeks ago, Mayor Dan Rizzo asked that the council restore the Quinn Bill money since it was the result of contractual negotiations between the city and the police department unions.

Other councillors Monday night shared Penta’s skepticism, but voted in favor of restoration.

“What’s the reason for cutting…in May and then restoring in August?” asked Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso. “I’m still perplexed we allowed [money] to be put into the Quinn Bill account instead of the [overtime] budget.” He went on to say that he is worried about the potential for cuts from the state government to local aid in the near future, which would make it increasingly difficult for the city to meet its financial obligations. “I’m concerned [about] whether taxpayers can afford it,” Guinasso said.

But Ward 6 Councillor Charles Patch urged the council to vote in favor of restoration, for fear that they would open themselves up to lawsuits if they go against the contract. “By law [the mayor] has to pay it… The only way to change it is to renegotiate between mayor and the unions,” Patch said. Councillor John Correggio joined him in support, since it is a union issue.

Councillor-at-Large Brian Arrigo noted that during budget talks in May he requested that the Quinn money be placed into a separate account so the mayor can negotiate with more flexibility. “If it’s in the budget, it’s a gift,” he reasoned. Further, the Quinn money is not required under contract, because the Supreme Judicial Court ruled earlier this year that cities and towns do not need to pay the extra money, he said. A Boston.com story from March 22, 2012, indicated that most cities and towns in the region still elect to pay the full Quinn Bill amount despite the ruling.

The Quinn Overtime Bill is undoubtedly a complicated budget issue. The money is not solely set up as overtime pay; it also provides additional incentives for those officers in the department who earned college degrees.

In a phone call to The Revere Advocate on Wednesday, Police Chief Cafarelli voiced his support for the Quinn Bill. “You’re getting a better officer for starters,” he explained. “It’s a good way to lure better officers in your department, not that there’s anything wrong with officers who don’t have a college degree. I think [the Quinn Bill] is a good thing.”

The vote to restore $220,000 to the Board of Health, money from city coffers that goes to pay for school nurses, passed by a slim 6–4 vote, with Councillors Arrigo, Giannino, Zambuto, and Penta voting against it.

The money originally cut from the budget was not part of net school spending, several councillors noted.

In Revere the school department pays the salaries of nurses, who are part of the Revere Teachers Association (RTA) union. The Board of Health also pays school nurses from city funds, which are then reimbursed by the school department.

During the Ways and Means Subcommittee meeting, Ward 5 Councilor John Powers, relaying information from the city auditor and Public Health Director Nick Catinazzo, said that the money is an important incentive designed to keep licensed nurses working in the school system who, because of their level of education and experience, would otherwise find more lucrative work in the private sector.

The Massachusetts School Nurse Organization notes that school nurses must be licensed with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. An initial license requires a valid license to practice nursing in the state, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, and a minimum of two years of employment as a registered nurse in child, clinical, or community health. For a professional license, nurses must have three years of experience as a school nurse and be working towards a master’s degree or achieve a level of certification by a nationally recognized professional nursing organization.

In an email Wednesday, School Superintendent Paul Dakin stated: “I couldn’t originally understand why the council cut that money from the budget back in June, as the Revere public schools reimburses the city for that money. It’s a no cost for the city, as they get the money to pay for that whole line item value from the schools.”