ST. PETERSBURG — For the top brass of the Police Department, the past 18 months have been good.
Since October 2006, Chief Chuck Harmon has gotten three raises, including two merit raises, bumping his salary 6.64 percent to $152,314. Assistant Chiefs Dave DeKay and Cedric Gordon both got raises that increased their salaries by 7.29 percent to $123,841. And Assistant Chief Luke Williams saw his salary rise by 5.75 percent to $123,846.
Those salary increases include merit raises given at the discretion of Mayor Rick Baker and other general raises given to city employees in managerial positions.
But the department's officers are still bogged down in contract negotiations with the city and fighting to get a raise greater than 3 percent.
In their last contract with the city, police sergeants and lieutenants received 5.5 percent raises. Officers received annual 5 percent raises in their last contract.
The lull in negotiations, combined with the raises top administrators received, has led to frustration among union officials. They say they have not had a meeting with city officials since February, when the city offered them a 3 percent raise.
"I have no idea why the city hasn't come back," said Sgt. Karl Lounge, secretary of the local Fraternal Order of Police, which represents sergeants and lieutenants. "They should be able to come back with a reasonable offer."
Mike Connors, the city's internal services administrator, did not respond to a request for comment.
Lounge said the FOP asked for 5 percent raises this year. Those raises don't take into account the average 4 percent step increases in pay officers get based on experience. Officers have continued to receive those raises during the negotiations.
Officer Mark Deasaro, the president of the Police Benevolent Association of Pinellas County, said his union won't settle for anything less than raises of 7 percent, which he says would raise the pay of police officers to that of comparable agencies. The PBA negotiates for rank-and-file officers.
Deasaro said the city should use money in emergency contingency funds to pay for the raises, if necessary.
"Why are we talking about a new stadium when we don't even have a public safety contract?" Deasaro said. "We're not at an impasse yet, but impasse is not far off."
But in a state facing stiff budget cuts in a slumping economy, city leaders say it will be difficult to afford raises larger than 3 percent.
"We can never pay the officers enough for what they do," Harmon said.
But Harmon added that he thought the city's offer of 3 percent was fair.
"Given the times and the economic condition in the state, it's a reasonable offer," he said.
Harmon's total raise includes one merit raise of 2 percent, another of 2.5 percent and a general raise of 2 percent given to all city managers, according to the city's human resources director. He said other top police officials got similar pay raises.
"I don't think the staff has been overcompensated," Harmon said. "Many work more than 40 hours a week and don't get overtime."
For now, both sides wait as tensions grow. Lounge said those without a contract are grumbling as they learn about the raises given to administrators.
"We're not opposed to the staff getting raises," he said. "But the staff has gotten three raises, and we're still negotiating."
Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.