Grove City Council has approved a new three-year contract with the city's police officers, who are represented by Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9.

Council voted unanimously Feb. 18 to authorize the mayor and city administrator to enter into the new agreement, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019.

The contract gives officers a 3% raise each year it is in effect, through Dec. 31, 2021.

The contract covers 52 police officers, eight sergeants and two lieutenants and replaces a three-year deal council approved in May 2016, which gave the employees a 2.75% pay increase each year.

That contract expired Dec. 31, 2018, and the police officers have been working without a contract while negotiations continued.

With the 3% yearly pay increase, the base salary for a beginning probationary officer increased from $52,728 in 2018 to $54,308.80 in 2019, the first year of the new contract, city administrator Chuck Boso said.

The beginning officer's salary in 2020 is $55,931.20 and will be $57,616 in 2021.

With step increases based on seniority, an officer who has reached the fifth step, the top level for a police officer, earned a base salary of $92,144 in 2018. The 3% pay increase boosted the salary to $94,910.40 in 2019; $97,760 in 2020 and $100,602.80 in 2021.

The base salary for a sergeant was $106,204.80 in 2019. The 3% pay increase raised the salary to $109,387.20 in 2019; $112,673.60 in 2020 and $116,043.20 in 2021.

The salary for lieutenants increases from $119,683.20 in 2018 to $130,790.40 in 2021.

The total cost of the contract for police officers at the highest step, including benefits, was $153,525 in 2018 and will be $168,747 per officer in 2021, Boso said.

For sergeants, the total compensation package in 2018 was $171,313 and will be $188,192 in 2021, he said. For lieutenants, the amount will increase from $187,320 in 2018 to $205,657 in 2020.

The total cost of the contract for the three years will be $1.4 million, Boso said.

The 16-month negotiation process moved to a fact finder, and both sides unanimously agreed to the fact finder's report, which was issued Jan. 29.

City Council voted to accept the fact finder's recommendations Feb. 3.

The union held its vote at the end of January, said Brian Toth, a member of the FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9 board of directors and liaison to the Grove City membership.

"The tone (of the negotiations) was 'OK.' They want things and we want things," he said. "There will always be thoughts for next time of what we could have done better, but it's a fair contract and we will cross that bridge next time."

"Sometimes you reach an impasse on one issue or another and a fact finder can be a third voice who can come in and maybe have a different view on things," Boso said.

In this case, both sides readily agreed to accept the fact finder's recommendations, he said.

The biggest sticking point from the police officers' side was the issue of whether non-patrol positions, including detectives and school-resource officers, could be assigned as rotating positions, Toth said.

The fact finder ruled in the FOP's favor and went with the current language in the contract, which states that factors including skill, ability, knowledge, work performance, specialized training and seniority will be the criteria the police chief should use when making an appointment and if all other criteria are equal, seniority should be the deciding factor, he said.

"For detectives, you get better in time and to impose a rotation of those jobs is not good for the community," Toth said.

The city's position was that creating a rotation should be an option for the chief in making a non-patrol appointment because it might allow more members of the department to gain experience in various roles, Boso said.

The fact finder sided with the city in recommending the current language regarding compensatory time remains in the contract.

The contract sets a maximum of 81 hours of comp time that an employee may take in lieu of overtime pay with no refill.

The union wanted comp time to be refillable, Toth said.

The administration's preference is to pay employees overtime when needed rather than provide them with additional comp time, Boso said.