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Oak Harbor police may be alone in pay raises

All eyes will be on the Oak Police Department next week as a vote Monday by members of its employee union will determine whether they are the only city employees to get raises in 2011.

To help balance the city’s general fund – the discretionary pot of money that pays for many city services – Mayor Jim Slowik and his administration have proposed no cost of living adjustments, commonly called COLAs, for all city employees. The decision did not carry over to fire and police unions, so city officials asked them to waive their COLAs voluntarily.

Although the Oak Harbor Firefighters Union has given a verbal commitment not to ask for a COLA increase, the Oak Harbor Police Association is under contract with the city for a 2 percent raise in 2011 and 2012. It will meet Monday to vote whether or not to enforce the terms of the agreement that was struck with the city last year.

“Basically, it will be a vote of whether we make them stick to the their contract,” said Ron Hofkamp, a department detective and president of the association.

The economy seems to have finally caught up with the city and falling sales tax revenues and slow growth have made this a tough budget cycle. Over the past month, city staff has pared away nearly $4.6 million from department budget proposals to balance the general fund.

But even with those reductions, the final two-year budget that will go before the City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 16, is millions less than the last biennium budget. The general fund for 2011 is $14.33 million and $14.26 in 2012. That compares to the $15.66 million adopted for 2009 and $16 million for 2010.

According to Oak Harbor Finance Director Doug Merriman, not giving the standard COLA increase for non-represented employees saved the city about $94,000. Collectively, the COLA increases for the unions topped $117,000. The breakdown of that number between the two unions was not available Friday morning.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt said the majority likely goes toward police due to the union’s size. The police association has 36 members compared to firefighters’ eight. But whatever the number, the ever-increasing cost of benefits in the face of declining city revenues make the number significant, he said.

“Every penny counts,” he said.

Hofkamp said he couldn’t predict how the association will vote on Monday.

“I can’t say which way it’s going to go,” Hofkamp said.

According to Schmidt, in the event that the police union decides to hold the city to its contract the money for their COLA increase will just have to come from somewhere else. He could not say where exactly the money would come from, only that it would be found from operating expenditures.

“We’ll grind down on the little items until they add up,” Schmidt said. “We’ll work this thing either way.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at City Hall, located at 865 SE Barrington Dr. The public will be able to weigh in during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

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