Lackawanna police officers will get a 2.75 percent raise this year and in 2014 and 3 percent raises in 2015 and 2016, under the terms of a new contract approved Monday by the City Council.
The deal also includes retroactive pay raises of 2 percent for each of the last four years.
The back pay for the 46 members of the Lackawanna Police Benevolent Association is expected to cost taxpayers about $700,000. Back pay also will be awarded to officers who were on the force Aug. 1, 2009, and have since retired.
Aug. 1, 2009, was the start of a memorandum of understanding between city and police extending the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement that had expired in 2006.
Police officers showed up in force inside Council Chambers for the meeting and left the room satisfied.
“My guys are happy. It’s been four years,” said Officer David M. Joyce, union vice president. “It was a fair agreement to both sides.”
Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said the deal amounted to good value for the city. “I think it’s a good deal. It’s affordable, yet they are happy with the situation,” he said. If the two sides went to arbitration, it “would have cost even more money for everybody,” the mayor added.
“If we went to arbitration, there’s a chance it may have been larger than 2 percent per year” in back pay, Szymanski said. “They agreed that was a fair number. We agreed that was a fair number.”
Council members voted, 4-1, to approve the deal, with 4th Ward Councilman Keith E. Lewis casting the lone vote against the contract.
Lewis said that the police officers deserved a new contract but that he didn’t have enough details about the budgetary impact of the contract to understand whether the city can afford it. “I feel really uncomfortable with the lack of information I have today,” he said. “Please understand this ‘no’ vote is not a ‘no’ to you.”
If the city has the wherewithal, he added, “I’ll be all for it.”
Afterward, Lewis said he needed to know the effect of the contract of the city’s budget for next year and on its reserves. He also expressed concern that it could push the city even closer to its constitutional tax limit.
“I have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers who elected me to do due diligence,” he said.
Other Council members expressed concerns about having the agreement presented to them just days ago, with little explanation of its budgetary implications. But they voted in favor of it, anyway.
In his 2013-14 budget proposal, Szymanski set aside $1.2 million in reserve funds to cover the costs of retroactive pay for employees covered by expired contracts that he expected to renegotiate. About $380,000 of that was supposed to cover back pay for the police.
Joyce said police were not out to harm the city’s finances. Lackawanna’s officers will still be paid far less on average than officers in other area departments, he added. Lackawanna patrol officers currently earn between $46,000 and $55,000 in base salary.
“We weren’t looking to be the highest-paid. We just want a fair wage for our guys,” Joyce said.
The Council tabled a vote on another tentative contract deal reached between the city and about 20 white-collar employees in City Hall.