News and Tribune

December 4, 2012

New Albany city attorney: Arbiter can’t force $300k pay out for police

New Albany union requested 4 percent raise, retroactive stipend from 2010

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY —  Last month an arbiter ruled on the side of the New Albany police union, but now there’s disagreement as to what weight that decision carries as it pertains to $300,000 in additional salary benefits being sought for the city’s police officers.

An arbiter sided with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99 in their requests pertaining to the 2010, 2011 and 2012 New Albany Police Department union contracts with the city.

For 2010 and 2011, the request sought a salary stipend of $50 per month for each officer. Local union president and NAPD Sgt. John Hall said that will equate to about $80,000.

The arbiter also ruled in favor of the union’s request to include holiday pay as part of an officer’s base salary. Hall said the move doesn’t affect funding for regular wages, but would cost the city about $80,000 in additional payments to the police retirement fund.

The arbiter also agreed with the union’s 4 percent cost-of-living pay raise request for 2012, which would mark the first raise for the police department since 2007 beyond an annual 1 percent longevity increase.

The cost-of-living raise is expected to cost about $140,000.

In light of the ruling, Hall presented the arbiter’s decion to the New Albany City Council Monday, estimating the body would likely have to appropriate about $300,000 to cover the costs.

But on Tuesday, City Attorney Stan Robison said an arbiter doesn’t have the authority to force the council to pay for the additional salary expenses.

“Hall is misrepresenting what’s in the arbitration agreement,” he said.

The arbiter’s ruling stated he agreed with the union to the extent of his authority, Robison said.

“The extent of [the arbiter’s] authority is thwarted by the fiscal body,” he continued. “The city council has the final say.”

The $50 a month stipend and inclusion of holiday pay in the officer’s salary base were agreements the union apparently reached with former Mayor Doug England late last year, Robison said.

When Mayor Jeff Gahan took office in January and learned of the deal, he declined to honor the agreement and wanted to have his own negotiations with the union, Robison said.

Hall said the union negotiated and agreed to the 2010 and 2011 salary items with England and believed they would be brought before the council, but that never happened.

New Albany Councilman Dan Coffey said those details should have been presented to the body since it’s responsible for approving funding for the police department.

Hall countered that it wasn’t the union’s choice to keep the matter private, and that he tried to keep the council informed to the best of his ability. He said the union agreed not to negotiate the proposed salary items with the council at the request of England.

“We haven’t tried to hide anything,” Hall said.

On Tuesday, England said the salary items were agreed to because the administration believed it was a way to give officers some additional pay during a time when all city employees’ salaries were frozen.

“They nor anyone else had received a raise during my tenure,” England said.

The city’s legal counsel at the time didn’t advise that the contract details had to be presented to the city council or they would have been brought to the body, he added.

Coffey asserted the city could face financial hardships if it is forced to regularly dip into non general fund revenue to foot police salaries. He said New Albany can’t afford to deplete its Economic Development Income Tax fund for police pay, as he added most residents aren’t receiving 4 percent pay salary increases.

“We can’t continue to operate this way,” Coffey said.

Coffey added that he was disappointed the pending expenses weren’t presented to the council last year when the body, at the request of the administration, appropriated additional funding to balance the 2011 budget.

According to Hall, the police union saved the city about $62,000 after the majority of its employees elected to switch to a health savings account last year instead of staying with the traditional insurance coverage.

He added the union doesn’t like to take cases to arbitration, but that when negotiations stall, they are left with no choice.

The council took no action Monday on the 2010 through 2012 contracts or salary requests.

Robison said the next step for the administration will be to see how the council wants to handle the ruling, but he stood firm in his belief that he doesn’t think an arbiter can force the city to spend money on additional police salaries based on what has been presented by the union.

“I think it’s going to end up in court, I really do,” he said.

In other union news, the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety continued consideration of a grievance filed Nov. 12 regarding a police staffing issue.

The grievance is over the number of officers assigned to one shift during November. The union is alleging the proper procedure wasn’t followed when some of the officers slated to work the shift instead attended an out of town training session.

The union is claiming officers should have been called in based on an overtime list. NAPD Chief Sherri Knight said the schedule was adjusted to adequately cover the shift, and that there were ample officers on duty on the day in question.