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April 8, 2013

New Albany police union dispute headed to court

Administration questioning arbiter’s authority

NEW ALBANY — A judge likely will decide if an arbiter’s ruling is enough to force the city to pay benefits and past salary increases to New Albany Police Department employees.

An arbiter ruled last year in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99’s claim that department employees were due $300,000 in salary benefits pertaining to contracts for 2010, 2011 and 2012 which were agreed upon by former Mayor Doug England. The union requests consist of a $50 stipend per month for each officer for 2010 and 2011, and a 4 percent cost-of-living pay raise for 2012.

Additionally, the union has stated England agreed to include holiday pay as part of an officer’s base salary, which would lead to an increase of about $80,000 to the police retirement fund.

Though it agreed to allow an arbiter to hear the case, Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration has questioned whether the ruling holds dominion.

City Attorney Stan Robison confirmed Friday that the sides have agreed to allow the case to be weighed by Clark County Circuit Court Judge Vicki Carmichael, though a hearing date hasn’t been set.

“We’re basically wanting a settlement of the question whether the arbiter’s ruling stays or it goes to the [New Albany] City Council,” Robison said. “I think it goes back to the city council.”

New Albany officers receive a 1 percent annual longevity pay increase, but haven’t had a salary raise since 2007.

Local union president and NAPD Sgt. John Hall said this case marks new territory.

“From our stance, we’ve followed the city ordinance on collective bargaining, and we’ve never had a situation where the city didn’t honor the arbiter’s ruling,” he said Friday.

Officers haven’t let the dispute affect their professionalism, as they have continued to provide quality service to the city, Hall continued. He said the issues should have been dealt with under England, who left office in 2011.

“We’re trying to get stuff from [2010, 2011 and 2012] resolved so we can move forward,” Hall said.

Some council members, including Dan Coffey, have expressed disappointment that the financial matters weren’t presented to the council before they were agreed upon by the former mayor. England told the News and Tribune in December he supported the benefits because he felt they were a means to provide officers with additional pay at a time when city employees’ salaries were frozen.

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

As the issue is retroactive and holiday pay is one of the claims, Hall said the longer the case carries on, the more expensive it could be for the city.

“Every week that the city lets it continue on, it grows and there will be a larger back pay,” he said.

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