NORTH RIDGEVILLE - The city's police officers and firefighters say they want a new contract and a raise, but their chances of seeing even slightly fatter paychecks hinge on three replacement levies this May.
City officials are beginning to discuss budget requests with police, fire and other departments, but serious contract talks will be on hold until after the May 4 election.
"It's unfortunate they've all come up at the same time," said North Ridgeville Police Detective Larry Swenk, who is the senior member of the 38-man department's bargaining team. "The worst-case scenario would be for one or more of them to fail. If that happens, there's a good possibility of some kind of layoffs."
Firefighter Paul Sadowski, a negotiation team spokesman for the city's 33-man Fire Department, agreed.
"If they fail, the city may not have any money to give us anything," Sadowski said. "We'd be struggling to keep up manpower with layoffs. The focus now is to get those levies passed."
The city's safety forces and workers at City Hall, Service Department and French Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, totaling about 190 people, received 3 percent raises in each year of a three-year contract from 2007 through 2009.
Starting pay for most of the city's firefighters, who are also paramedics, is $49,400. Starting salary for a police officer is $51,979 a year.
This year, personnel agreed to a one-year pay freeze because of the tough economic conditions. Swenk said the police proposed the freeze, and everyone agreed to follow suit. The freeze was seen as a way of ensuring no one would lose his or her job.
Each of the renewal levies is for 1.9 mills, runs five years and generates $1.145 million annually for a total of $4.5 million. Taken together, the levies cost homeowners an average of $21.60 a year, Mayor David Gillock said.
Revenue from the fire and police levies pays for salaries as well as equipment and other operational costs. The streets levy is used exclusively for repairs, upkeep and improvements to city streets. Due to re-adjusted tax valuations - which result in decreases to home values in many area communities - some North Ridgeville households might actually pay slightly less in taxes, according to Swenk.
City Council President Kevin Corcoran said he expects the unions will ask for a raise when they sit down to negotiate. He also pointed to the May ballot as a key factor.
"If any of those levies fail, it changes the whole conversation,'' Corcoran said. "We're going to be in a really tight situation. We've been fortunate to keep our heads above water the last year or two."
Sadowski believes safety forces would be willing "to negotiate another freeze 'til things get going again" to prevent anyone being laid off if that becomes necessary.
It's too early to know how much of a raise anyone will ask for, Swenk said.
"We haven't even discussed figures yet ... not 'til we see what happens at the polls," Swenk said.