After two years of negotiations, Forest Park’s village council finally approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the union representing the village’s police department Monday night. Though technically a four year contracaat, the agreement will expire in 2008 due to the delay.

Among the most notable changes is the elimination of an allowance that permitted officers with tenure of five years or more to take up to 80 sick days per year. Under the old contract, officers with between 3-5 years experience are given 52 days, while those with 1-3 years can take up to 28 days of sick leave. In their first year, officers received four sick days.

Under the new contract, officers will earn 1.5 sick days per month of service, or 18 per year.

“It’s a milestone as far as the village eliminating some benefits that were a little over the top. My gut tells me that everyone thought 80 days was excessive,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone, the commissioner who oversees the police department.

Current officers, under the new contract, will be credited one sick day per month of service throughout their career, minus the number of days they’ve taken. If this formula gives an officer a negative number of sick days, he will begin at zero and accumulate days each month. Officers will be allowed to accumulate up to 160 sick days in case an extended sick leave is needed, and those who have already accumulated 160 can continue to accumulate more.

Though the new sick leave policy may be the most striking change, especially following the attention the old policy has received during the ongoing termination hearing of Sgt. Dan Harder, Calderone said it was not the most contentious issue during negotiations. “I would say it wasn’t a stumbling block. Pay is always the major factor, of course.”

The contract gives officers 4 percent raises in 2004 and 2005, 5 percent raises in 2006 and 4 percent raises in 2007. They will be paid retroactively for the years covered by the contract that have already passed. The back pay was accounted for in the village’s recently passed fiscal year 2007 budget, which saw the police department’s allowance increase by 10 percent to $3.85 million.

Under the previous contract, officers started at $38,784.70 and made $51,934.73 after five years. This year, the third year of the new contract, officers will start at $44,047.01 and will make $58,981.23 after five years. Sergeants, under the previous contract, were paid $63,672.90. In the first year of the new contract they made $66,219.82, and this year they will make $72,312.04.

Another notable change brought about by the new contract, according to a memo from Village Administrator Michael Sturino, is that officers will now have to contribute toward their health insurance coverage in the same way as other village employees. Officers will pay 12 percent of the premium for PPO coverage and 10 percent for an HMO, which, Sturino wrote, will help offset the salary increases.

Also at Monday’s Village Council meeting:

The council followed the recommendation of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), voting to allow developer Robert Marani to convert an 18 unit apartment building at 7320 Madison Street, to a nine-unit condominium building.

The lower level of the building is home to Team Blonde Jewelry, Briolette Beads, and La Piazza Café.

The council voted to waive the off-street parking requirement, which would typically call upon Marani to provide two parking spaces for each unit.

Commissioner Terry Steinbach expressed some concern that work on the building had continued despite a stop work order issued on the building in April, but building department head Michael Boyle encouraged the council to approve the ordinance in order to move the project forward.

He said that Marani had been fined $750 for violating the stop work order, and would continue to be fined if there are further violations.

Also following the ZBA’s recommendation, the council denied a request from J&B Signs to add an electronic billboard to an existing sign at 723 Desplaines Ave. near the I-290 exit ramp.

The council voted to approve a contract for the sale and installation of a new telephone system at village hall. The contract was awarded to Mercury Systems for $39,041.25.

Two companies, Advanced Telecommunications, Inc. (ATI) and Sound, Inc. submitted lower bids than Mercury Systems, with ATI’s bid coming in the lowest at $31,015. In a memo to the village council, Village Administrator Michael Sturino said that the two companies “did not possess the requisite background to successfully implement the plan.”

He recommended signing on with Mercury Systems, who he said, “has done a great deal of work in the police telecommunications area.”

The new system according to Sturino, will improve both the general telephone system and the 911 dispatch system by eliminating busy signals, providing for better direct dial to employees, and “creating an overall better customer service level for residents and businesses while enhancing staff efficiency.”