The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 16, 2013

Conneaut police deserve pay hikes, says arbitrator

City leaders worry about ruling’s impact on budget

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — City administrators are assessing the financial impact of an arbitrator’s decision that Conneaut police officers are due pay increases this year and the next two years.

The arbitrator’s report, received at City Hall on Thursday, said members of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 51 will receive a 4 percent wage hike this year, 3.5 percent at the start of 2014 and 3 percent in 2015. The figures are identical to those recommended by a fact-finder this summer.

The wage hikes will cost the city nearly $248,000 over the three-year period, according to figures from Finance Director John Williams. A budget amendment will be needed to cover the cost of the 2013 increase, which is retroactive to the start of the year, Williams said.

Administrators had argued the city can’t afford any increases because of its gloomy financial situation. A stagnant economy and job loss, coupled with cuts in government funding, has put the city in a bleak position, leaders argued. The FOP said the officers have taken on additional duties and extra work amid personnel cuts. The union also noted the city’s $871,000 general fund carry-over in 2012, a $100,000 gain from the previous year.

The arbitrator also approved a 10 percent rank differential between patrolman, sergeant and lieutenant positions, a jump of 4 percent from the last contract. The arbitrator denied the union an increase in shift differential, agreeing with the city’s position.

“The very generous wage award ... and the uncertainty of the future fiscal condition of the city of Conneaut trumps any arguments for an increase in shift differential at this time,” the arbitrator wrote.

City Manager Tim Eggleston said Friday he was “disappointed” with the findings and frustrated that the arbitrator — while acknowledging the city was in a money bind —  authorized wage increases. Police Sgt. Steve Gerics, FOP Lodge 51 president, could not be reached for comment Friday.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Eggleston said the city was anxiously awaiting the arbitrator’s decision because of the impact it could have on 2014 budget-planning.

Meanwhile, administrators and representatives of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 2182 met with a mediator Thursday to resolve snags in contract talks, Eggleston said. A meeting with a fact-finder is probably the next step, he said.

“Some things we’ll throw back and forth before we go to fact-finding,” Eggleston said.

AFSCME Local 2182 represents the city’s service department employees.