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Retroactivity approved in 3-stage pay raise for police

Buffalo police officers will receive retroactive raises after the city's control board Wednesday unanimously approved a budget revision advanced by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Officers will receive 3.4 percent raises dating from July 1, when the state-appointed control board lifted a 38-month-old wage freeze. They will receive an additional 3.4 percent next July and an identical raise in July 2009 under a modification authorized by the fiscal oversight panel.

The raise will cost the city $2.3 million in the first year. While cumulative costs over four years will approach $25 million, Paul J. Kolkmeyer, the new chairman of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, said the city has demonstrated an ability to afford the expenditures. Increases in state aid will help offset the costs.

The annual one-step increase complies with state law and with provisions set forth in the wage freeze, said control board interim Executive Director Joseph V. Stefko.

But the president of the city police union insisted that officers are owed immediate 10.2 percent increases based on a 2003 contract they ratified that included givebacks in return for raises. Robert P. Meegan Jr. said a 3.4 percent pay increase does little to ease frustrations.

"Officers have still lost tens of thousands of dollars," Meegan said. "They've stolen enough money from officers."

While Brown declined to rebut Meegan's comment, the mayor said he hopes to negotiate a contract that would help to make up for money officers lost because of the wage freeze.

"Our goal is to negotiate new contracts with all city bargaining units, contracts that are affordable to taxpayers," Brown said.

The police union and six other city and school district unions have launched lawsuits challenging the impact the wage freeze has had on thousands of employees. A judge is expected to issue a ruling next week. Kolkmeyer said the control board has some concern about the impact that adverse court rulings could have on city and school district finances.

Police officers are among the highest-paid city employees. The 3.4 percent raise would increase most officers' salaries by $1,971, to $59,949. By mid-2009, the base salary of a typical officer would be nearly $64,100.

The control board also unanimously approved a $3.1 million contract that paves the way for a citywide expansion of surveillance cameras as crime-fighting tools. The approval gives Buffalo the green light to buy 60 high-tech cameras, software and other equipment from Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls.

Wednesday's meeting was Stefko's first as interim executive director. He succeeds Dorothy A. Johnson, who retired last month. Board member George K. Arthur reiterated his concerns about a decision to give Stefko a $22,000 raise from his previous salary as Johnson's deputy. Stefko's new salary is $102,000, or $8,000 less than what Johnson made.

The board appointed a panel to begin a search for a permanent executive director. But Brown and Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra -- another control board member -- said they believe that Stefko should be given serious consideration for the permanent appointment.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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