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Council, police reach 3-year agreement

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Connellsville City Council ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement Friday with the Connellsville Police Officers Association that calls for no pay hike in 2014 and 3 percent wage increases the next two years.

Mayor Charles Matthews said the contract calls for increasing the police officers' maximum vacation time from four to five weeks. The three-year contract, which covers the city's 15 police officers, will remain in effect from Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2016.

In the previous three-year contract, Matthews said, the maximum vacation time was four weeks for a police officer with 15 years of service. The mayor said the new contract increases the maximum vacation time to five weeks after an officer has been on the job for 22.5 years.

The contract also includes changes in the sick day buyback plan for retirees, which increases from 55 percent to 70 percent.

“Police officers are eligible to retire after 20 years,” the mayor said. “They previously were only paid 55 percent for the sick day buyback plan.”

Under the conditions of the previous agreement, Matthews said, police officers had been required to live 6 miles within the Connellsville Police Department and City Hall. The new contract changes the requirement to 12 miles.

The department's bereavement policy was also changed, according to Matthews.

“Bereavement now includes stepchildren and up to a fifth day of leave for spouse, children and stepchildren,” he said.

Matthews said a two-year probationary period will now be in place for newly hired officers.

Police officers will be hired at 80 percent of the wage they will receive after completion of the probationary period. The officers' wages will increase to 90 percent during the second year and reach the full 100 percent salary after they are on the job for two years.

Council voted 4-1 to ratify the new contract with Councilman Tom Karpiak voting no.

“I opposed 3 percent wage hikes in the second and third year of the contract,” Karpiak said. “I was in favor of a 2 percent increase in 2015 and a 3 percent hike the next year.”

Because Connellsville is still facing challenging financial times, Karpiak said he does not believe the city can afford a 3 percent wage hike for its police officers next year.

“Any increase we give them, we ain't got,” he said. “The city still has financial issues.”

Karpiak said the city felt compelled to reach an agreement with the police officers before next week, when the association would have the option of entering into arbitration.

“Arbitration could have cost the city a lot of extra money,” Matthews added. “Because of that, it was in the city's best interest to reach an agreement.”

Karpiak also said he was opposed to giving police officers an extra week of vacation time.

“That could cause a police shortage problem for the city,” he said. “I just think five weeks of vacation time is too much.”

In addition, Karpiak opposed increasing the sick pay buyback program. Instead, he favored decreasing the percentage of wages the police officers would receive for sick days.

Matthews, Karpiak and Councilwoman Marilyn Weaver served on the city's negotiating team. Representing the police officers association were Sgt. Ryan Reese, president; John James, vice president; and Andy Hominsky, secretary/treasurer.

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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