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Walsh administration ready to move again on police union contract, but some have doubts

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner in council chambers in December.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration said if the city’s Common Council does not give specific changes, then the administration will submit a police union contract for council approval in two weeks. It’s the same contract, agreed on by Walsh and the union, that the administration asked to withdraw from the council agenda in December, because there were not enough votes to pass it. Some councilors have set a specific threshold of what they could support. 

Councilor Pat Hogan is one of three new members on the council, since the vote on the contract was canceled. He said he does not support the current contract.

“This is a really, really heavy burden and we just can’t afford it,” Hogan said.

The contract includes a five-year residency requirement for new hires, but also pay increases meant to attract and retain police officers, based on rank, skills, education and military service. The city initially estimated the extra costs at $12 million. Councilors did their own math and say it’s more like $20 million.

“The council has a fiduciary ability and responsibility to say we can’t afford more than $10 million," Hogan said. "That would be my benchmark.”

Common Council President Helen Hudson said the council will submit their own ideas of what they would like to see changed. If an agreement can’t be reached, and the council or the police union votes down the contract, the city and the police union would head to arbitration. That’s where Hogan thinks this is going.

“It would be difficult for the president of the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) to go back to his members and say, this is what the city can afford, even though you voted on this one contract and thought it was a done deal, the council’s got the final say on this, we need you to accept this,” Hogan said. “I know the political reality of that.”

An arbitration panel would then make a final decision, binding for two years. The police union has also been without a contract for two years. Any arbitration decision would likely just cover the retroactive pay, starting the entire process over again.

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.