Foxboro public safety building (copy)

Foxboro’s public safety building.

Voters at next Monday’s special town meeting will be asked to formally sever the police department’s 90-year affiliation with the Civil Service merit system.

Viewed as a response to persistent difficulties in recruiting and hiring new officers, the measure would authorize selectmen to petition the state Legislature to exempt local police personnel from the Civil Service law.

It was backed unanimously by selectmen and has the overwhelming support of Foxboro Police Local #379.

Adopted by Foxboro in 1931, Civil Service originally had been intended to protect the hiring process from patronage and political interference. Yet over the years, many safeguards once guaranteed by Civil Service have instead been addressed by collective bargaining and/or the arbitration process.

Currently, less than half of the Bay State’s 351 cities and towns remain in the Civil Service system.

According to Police Chief Michael Grace, who championed next Monday’s town meeting article, chronic staffing shortages in the police department have become especially challenging over the past year as openings created by injuries, transfers or retirements have gone unfilled.

Grace attributed the statewide shortage of law enforcement candidates to several factors, including recent police reform efforts and a backlog of openings at training academies--– both of which contribute to increased competition among agencies for available personnel.

He added that jettisoning Civil Service will allow the police department to develop testing practices that identify candidates who want to work in Foxboro and remain over the long term, as well as providing greater latitude in establishing and executing personnel policies.

In return for support from police rank-and-file, selectmen have endorsed an agreement extending scaled salary increases to officers who complete college degrees, a sweetener estimated to cost taxpayers $125,000 annually, but which supporters claim will be offset by lower overtime costs.

Better known as the “Quinn Bill,” the program provides qualified officers with percentage increases to their base pay depending on the degree earned -- 10 percent for an associate’s degree, 20 percent for a bachelor’s degree and 25 percent for a master’s or law degree.

Enacted in 1970, the Quinn Bill historically had been funded jointly by the state and participating communities. But in 2009, Gov. Deval Patrick discontinued the state’s share, leaving many cities and towns to scale back on benefits through the collective bargaining process.

Beyond the Civil Service matter, much of next Monday’s concise 13-article warrant consists of zoning revisions and related housekeeping matters.

Six of these involve proposed amendments to the town’s zoning bylaws including outdoor seating at local restaurants, accessory apartments, provisions for site plan review waivers, and refining the definitions of building height, habitable floor area and what constitutes a brewpub.

Members of the town advisory committee have endorsed 12 of the 13 articles on Monday night’s agenda, the sole exception being a request to accept Garrett Spillane Road as a town-owned street.

The annual fall session is scheduled to convene at 7:30 p.m. at the Foxboro High School auditorium.