Editor's note:  This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the mayor, city council members, finance director, law director, service director and community development director will also receive 3 percent raises.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — All city employees are receiving 3 percent annual pay increases through the first half of 2021, under contracts that were approved by the unions and council during the last quarter of the year.

City Council in the last three months of 2018 approved three-year contracts with all six of the city’s employee unions. The pacts, which took effect July 1, 2018, and will remain in place until June 30, 2021, grant three percent raises to the employees in each year of the deal.

The mayor's office, city council offices, as well as the finance director, law director, service director and community development director's offices will also receive a 3 percent raise at the beginning of each year from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec 31, 2020, according to Law Director Russ Balthis.

These pay raises are being issued in a connection with a 1987 ordinance that says these employees will receive a compensation hike equal to the weighted average of the increase received by the union employees as long as it does not exceed the raise garnered by the non-union employees. Since both union and non-union employees received a 3 percent raise, the mayor's office, city council offices, as well as the finance director, law director, service director and community development director's offices will be granted the same raise, said Balthis.

Bryan Hoffman, the city’s finance director, said granting the employee raises will cost the city an additional $880,000 in the first year of the contract, $910,000 in the second year and $940,000 in the third year.

The deals for the 33 employees in Local 399 of the Utility Workers’ Union of America (UWUA), AFL-CIO, and the 123 workers in American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 2662, were approved by council on Wednesday, Dec. 26. Council on that same evening approved the same pay raise for the same time frame for the city’s 97 non-union employees.

The contracts for the 69 employees in the International Association of Firefighters Local 494, the 11 workers in the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Labor Council Inc.(police dispatchers), the 53 employees in the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (police patrolmen and community service officers) and the 14 workers in Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (police supervisors) were approved by council in October. All six unions approved the contracts during the course of the last half of the year, said Balthis.

“My administration and union leadership continues to work incredibly well together to ensure that the best interests of all employees and providing top notch services and programs to our residents are at the forefront of all contract negotiations,” said Mayor Don Walters. “I am proud of work that was put into these contracts in the spirit of collaboration, professionalism, and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Firefighter Matt Hutchison, president of the firefighters’ union, said negotiations took several months, but added he felt the process was a “good example of labor and management coming together and listening to each other, and understanding each other’s concerns and working collaboratively to come up with solutions that benefited both the city’s interest and the union’s interest.”

He characterized the negotiations as “really smooth” and noted everyone involved was “respectful” to one another.

Health care costs addressed in deal

Balthis said the new health insurance plans will take effect Jan. 1. With the overall costs expected to increase and employees paying a percentage of those expenses, he noted workers will see “an increase in those costs.”

Balthis added the deals outline procedures to address rising health care costs. There is a Health Care Committee that was set up in 2015 and includes a representative from each of the six city employee unions and a representative for the non-union workers.

“If the city’s health care costs are projected to increase by more than 10 percent, the contracts say the Health Care Committee must find ways to reduce the city’s costs,” said Balthis. “Potential options would be increased employee contributions through higher deductibles or co-pays. The committee would look at many different ways to control costs including plan design changes.”

Hutchison said the new contract gives the committee the authority “to make changes when necessary.”

“Previously, you were sort of locked into it for three years and now the committee can make changes on an annual basis,” added Hutchison. “It gives us the flexibility to adjust to the market.”

Hoffman said health insurance costs are projected to increase by 9.6 percent in 2019.

According to Balthis, employees have different options for health insurance coverage plans. Depending on which one they select, a city worker could pay 0 percent, five percent or 15 percent of the cost of the plan. He said the employees who select the 0 percent contribution “do not have to make payments each pay day for health care but their deductibles and co-pays are higher than someone who selects the plan where they pay 15 percent of the plan cost each pay day.”

With the new contract, Hutchison said there was a “minor tweak” to the health insurance options where employees can save money if they use a smaller network of providers.

Balthis also thanked the city employees and union leaders for their work on the contracts.

“I am proud of the collaborative problem solving approach used to negotiate the contracts and council’s unanimous approval,” said Balthis. “The contracts will enable the city to recruit and retain talented employees and provide flexibility for the city to control health care costs.”

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.