New Albany City Council on April 17 rejected a fact-finder's decision on negotiations with the local police union.

New Albany City Council on April 17 rejected a fact-finder's decision on negotiations with the local police union.

The city has been negotiating for eight months with the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 on behalf of the 12 New Albany police officers, said City Attorney Paul Bittner of Ice Miller. The union negotiations began after the 2010 census determined New Albany's population exceeded 5,000, allowing the village to become a city in 2011. According to the Ohio State Employment Relations Board, a public employer, which can negotiate with unions, includes "any political subdivision of the state located entirely within the state, including, without limitation, any municipal corporation with a population of at least 5,000 according to the most recent federal decennial census."

Bittner said the two sides agreed on most everything except for wages. Because the two could not agree, the issue was sent to a fact-finder through the relations board. The board governs municipal negotiations for collective-bargaining agreements, per Ohio Revised Code.

The union requested a 5 percent increase in 2012, a 3.5 percent increase in 2013 and a 3.5 percent increase in 2014. Jason Pappas, executive vice president of Capital City Lodge No. 9, said one other city in Franklin County – Pickerington, most of which is in Fairfield County – pays its police officers less than New Albany.

According to the fact-finder's report, the annual base pay for an officer at New Albany's top step level is $67,639.10. Pickerington officers earn $67,350.40 annually. In comparison, Dublin officers earn $79,836.55 and Grandview Heights officers earn $71,257.55.

The police union said New Albany can afford the increase and it provides "a market adjustment that reflects the transition from village status to city status" last year.

The city proposed a 2.5 percent increase this year, a 2.5 percent increase in 2013 and a 3 percent increase in 2014, with future increases tied to the wage increase the city provides other employees.

City officials said the police salaries should be compared with other central Ohio cities, citing Grandview, Heath, Powell, Bexley, Worthington, Pataskala, Whitehall and Pickerington. They said the police officers are about 16.4 percent of the city's workforce and they receive 20.67 percent of the city's wages.

The fact-finder determined the union's increase is "excessive" and New Albany's is "insufficient." The fact-finder proposed to increase salaries by 3.5 percent this year, by 3 percent in 2013 and by 3.5 percent in 2014. That included reducing a starting police officer's salary to $46,000, which was not in dispute.

Union members accepted the fact-finder's recommendation about two weeks ago, Pappas said. Since council rejected it, the relations board will post the decision. Per Ohio law on binding arbitration and the conciliation process, the board has eight days to schedule a hearing for a third-party conciliator.

City manager Joseph Stefanov said both sides will present their best offers to the conciliator, and the conciliator will choose one.

The conciliator's decision is binding, Pappas said, and will become part of the contract between the union and the city.