Binding arbitration for Hagerstown’s fire and police unions received a decisive 73 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election — a victory a fire union official attributed to a central point.
If there is anything that city residents readily support when they write their checks for property taxes, it is public safety, said John Murray, a Hagerstown firefighter and spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1605.
“We’re humbled by their support,” Murray said Wednesday afternoon.
With all 15 city precincts reporting, 8,816 people voted for binding arbitration, while 3,203 voted against it, according to incomplete and unofficial results.
Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said Tuesday night that he believes the success of the vote stemmed from how it was presented. He said it is easy to get support when voters are told the issue is about public safety rather than public finance.
Some council members cautioned the community about binding arbitration, saying the process could end up impacting city taxpayers because issues like pay raises could be determined by a third party without council members being able to do anything about it.
Some communities rely on binding arbitration when two sides can’t reach a decision over issues such as wages when worker contracts are being negotiated. Binding arbitration means that the matter goes to an outside party — a neutral arbitrator — to be settled.
Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he was not surprised by the overwhelming support for binding arbitration.
Metzner said he believed part of the reason stemmed from an issue that arose in the presidential election — a “total mistrust in government.”
The council initially rejected the request for binding arbitration from the two unions after they received enough signatures to take it to the elected body.
But it ended up putting the issue on the ballot after two court defeats.
Murray re-emphasized his interest in allowing the unions help set up the binding-arbitration process.
Metzner said the next council will have to draft an ordinance spelling out the process, including what is arbitrated and how.
“I assume there will be a lot of legal work on it,” he said.