Scituate selectmen voted Tuesday night to advance a measure that could pull the town out of the Police Career Incentive Pay Program, commonly known as the Quinn Bill.
The vote came in the midst of contract negotiations with the police union and a lawsuit by Scituate police officers seeking payment under the Quinn Bill, which increases officers’ pay as they earn advanced degrees.
The selectmen's vote puts the measure on the Town Meeting warrant on April 12. Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said that if residents approve the measure, it would would take effect immediately after the vote. But the lawyer representing Scituate officers in their suit said the measure is illegal.
Scituate officials, who met privately in executive session before the public portion of their meeting began, did not discuss the vote. After the three-hour meeting, selectmen cited the pending lawsuit and ongoing police union negotiations for their decision not to comment.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Joseph P. Norton, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
“The contract’s under negotiation,” said Selectman Anthony V. Vegnani.
When asked if the pending lawsuit affected their attitude towards the warrant article, Selectman Richard Murray said no. “I voted regardless of whether it’s going to affect the lawsuit or not,” he said.
In an interview before the vote, Murray said that town officials have been considering the move for about six months.
After the vote, the legality of the measure came into questions. The officers' lawyer, Michael J. Sacchitella, said it would be illegal, and cited a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case that held the town of Dracut couldn’t pull out of the Quinn Bill.
“A town can’t revoke acceptance of the bill for any reason,” Sacchitella said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
But David Baier, director of the legislative division at the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said state law allows cities and towns to pull out of agreements like the Quinn Bill unless the law specifically states otherwise.
“There’ll be litigation over this forever,” Baier said.
Sacchitella, a Scituate resident who said he would vote against the measure at Town Meeting, said the warrant article is unlikely to affect his lawsuit right now.
“As far as my clients are concerned, we’ll go forward,” Sacchitella said.
In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Scituate’s cost from the Quinn Bill -- whose annual overall cost to state taxpayers is about $100 million -- is approximately $240,000, half of which is supposed to be reimbursed by the state. Approximately 230 communities in the state participate in the Quinn Bill, Baier said.
Scituate paid half, about $120,000, in July. But following the state's decision to slash funding for the Quinn Bill, the town did not make the second payment, which was due in January.
The police contract, which has expired, says that officers will not receive the second half the payment if the state funding falls through, Sacchitella said, but the lawsuit argues the officers should be paid anyway.
“We want a judge to declare that nobody can negotiate away a right that these officers have under the Quinn Bill,” said Sacchitella, who said he has not yet discussed the warrant article with his clients.
In Scituate, whose current annual budget is about $54 million, the measure is expected to be vetted by the Advisory Committee this week before warrant articles are printed for the April 12th town meeting.