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No deal: Syracuse council punts on police union contract, could head to arbitration

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The Syracuse Common Council.

At the request of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration, the city council withdrew legislation on a four-and-a-half year contract with the police union. That’s because, councilors said, the measure was going to be voted down. 

Councilors have expressed concern in recent weeks with the cost of the contract. Nearly $20 million in extra spending would go towards financial incentives meant to retain and attract new officers. Two years of the contract would be retroactive. Councilor-at-Large Tim Rudd said he wants retroactive incentives for longevity and education taken out, as well as, a longevity table, that he said, has changed dramatically. 

“Previously, the highest longevity payments were like, roughly $3,000," Rudd said. "Now, it’s $10,000 when you hit year 21. That’s a huge payment. That’s what goosed up the numbers for overtime. It’s what goosed up the retro payments.”

But police union President Jeff Piedmonte said the union and the city are likely headed to arbitration.

"What I’m really concerned about is going forward over the next year," Piedmonte said. "We already have 60 vacancies. With this occurring, unless we’re able to resolve it in the next few weeks, I see a lot more people retiring and a lot more problems.”

If the city and the police union do go to arbitration, a decision might not be reached until the fall, and the contract would only be for two previous years. Some councilors said that deal couldn’t be worse than what they currently have. But the city could lose a five-year residency requirement for new officers, which was agreed to by both parties. And that concerns Councilor Joe Carni, who said he would have voted for the contract. 

"This was going to help us get to the point where we would be fully staffed as a department, wouldn’t be as reliant on overtime, and that we would see a stronger police presence in our communities,” Carni said. 

In a statement, Mayor Ben Walsh said he was pleased the council is willing to continue the dialogue.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.