Arbitrator says no to Officers' Union cost of living raise

Lawton_Representatives say the City of Lawton does not have enough money to provide a cost of living raise for the Lawton Police Officers' Union.  For perhaps the first time in Lawton's history, arbitration sided with the city in the decision.

On Wednesday evening, the city manager defended the city's position on the record as the police union began to contemplate its next move and how the ruling will affect current, and future officers on the street.

The ruling covers a one-year contract for the Officers' Union and will continue to provide additional money for most members, but it isn't as much as they would like, and believe that they deserve.  Tough economic times are affecting us all, and the City of Lawton is no different according to City Manager Larry Mitchell.  "Cities all across the state, state agencies - all companies - are feeling that financial pinch," he says.  "Certainly our customers and our residents are feeling the same pinch."

There is no doubt that police officers are in the same situation as everyone else, but Mitchell says there is simply no money to give them a cost of living adjustment - he says it just can't happen.  "The city council was looking at raising utility rates significantly just to maintain the programs and activities we're doing currently," he says.  "So it was our position that we simply could not afford the increase."

The union's request was for a 4.5% increase that Mitchell says would have cost the city between $350,000-$400,000.  That would have been in addition to the 5% raise that most officers receive annually.  "Approximately half of the police officers would be getting a normal step increase, that would be provided under the contract provisions."  Under the arbitration ruling, the officers will still receive their annual increase.

Mitchell says he doesn't believe the ruling will hinder the department's recruiting efforts, and may even lead to more officers on the force.  He says that's what the community wants.  "The council said from a policy perspective, that rather than give employees cost of living increases, we want to try and get more police officers on the street," he says.

The ruling eliminates any possibility that community members would be forced to choose sides.  Had the city lost, it could have held a special election to let voters decide on the issue.

There are two sides to every argument and on Thursday, 7News will talk to the Lawton Police Officers' Union to get its take on the arbitration ruling.