Hilliard Division of Police officers recently rejected a new three-year contract but will work under the terms of a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2016, according to Tracy Bradford, the city’s law director.

However, an identical contract offered to supervisors – sergeants and lieutenants but not the deputy chief and chief – was accepted, Bradford said.

The police officers and supervisors belong to the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9.

Chiefs and deputy chiefs are not subject to collective bargaining. According to the Ohio Revised Code, police chiefs and anyone authorized to act on his or her behalf are supervisors and do not meet the definition of “public employee,” Bradford said. Therefore, they are prohibited from being members of a union, she said.

Both contracts would have provided a 3.15 percent raise in 2017 and 3 percent increases in 2018 and 2019, Bradford said. Under the previous contract, the lowest starting pay for a police officer was about $53,000, while the highest salary step level was just above $85,000.

Following a one-hour executive session July 24, Hilliard City Council members unanimously ratified the contract for the supervisors.

The rejection of the police officer’s contract was by a 2-1 margin, according to City Councilman Les Carrier, who said he could not divulge further details about either contract because they were discussed during executive session.

“But the margin surprised me and I think it sent a message. ... I want to know more,” Carrier said July 25.

Carrier said he also preferred to wait until after the mediation process before making further public comment.

However, both Carrier and Councilman Joe Erb said they remained concerned about the department’s staffing levels.

“We are woefully understaffed,” said Erb, who late last year, as part of the budget talks for 2017, led a successful effort to increase the department’s authorized strength from 57 to 61, including police officers and all supervisors.

The division currently has 53 officers, which includes three in the academy, according to police spokeswoman Andrea Litchfield.

Erb said he wants to see the department’s authorized strength increase to 65 in 2018.

Carrier said City Council is still awaiting the results of a police-staffing study it commissioned as part of the 2017 budget. The city spent $21,570.67 for the police-staffing study service by the Zashin & Rich Co. law firm, per finance director Dave Delande.

Concerning the contract for supervisors, Carrier said, he had “deep concern” the contracts for supervisors and police officers “are not parallel” but did not want to override a contract the supervisors had approved.

Jeff Simpson, vice president of the Capital City Lodge No. 9, did not respond July 25 to inquiries about the action of the union to reject the contract for police officers.

Meanwhile, the contract for police o fficers is headed to mediation within the next 30 days, Bradford said.

The mediator would be scheduled through the State Employment Relations Board, she said.

Bradford said she was “surprised” the contact was rejected and city officials are uncertain of the last time any police contract was required to undergo mediation.

She estimated it had been at least 25 years.

In mediation, an attempt is made by a third party to negotiate an agreement, taking both sides into consideration, Bradford said.

If mediation fails, the case goes to arbitration, at which the appointed arbiter determines which offer to accept, binding the parties, she said.