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Providence strikes deal with police union for pay raises and larger pension contributions

The changes would be retroactive to July 2019

The Providence Public Safety complex.
The Providence Public Safety complex.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

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LEADING OFF

Happy Thursday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I definitely need Amanda Gorman’s autograph. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 107,876 confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, after adding 722 new cases in the last day. The most-recent daily test-positive rate was 5 percent, and the first-time positive rate was 21.6 percent. The state announced 13 more deaths, bringing the total to 2,058. There were 379 people in the hospital, and 49,113 residents had received the first dose of the vaccine.

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It has been more than 18 months since the Providence police union’s contract expired, but Mayor Jorge Elorza is set to announce later today that the city has come to terms on a new four-year deal that includes generous pay raises for officers but also significant increases in the officers’ pension contributions.

The deal, which would run retroactively from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2023, still needs to be approved by the Providence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 and the City Council.

But a sneak peek at the agreement shows officers will retroactively receive 4.5 percent pay increases for July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, and another 4.5 percent raise this coming July. In the final year of the contract, police will receive a 3.75 percent increase.

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In exchange, the union has agreed to increase officers’ pension contributions from 8 percent a year to 13.5 percent by the end of the deal, which would be among the highest contribution rates for any public safety union in Rhode Island.

There are a handful of other interesting provisions buried in the tentative agreement – including a plan to have officers begin contributing $200 a year toward an other post-employment benefit (OPEB) trust fund – but the raises and the pension contributions are sure to draw the most attention.

Police union president Mike Imondi said the pay increases bring city officers’ base pay into the top 25 percent among police departments in the state. Providence officers are currently among the lowest-paid law enforcement workers in Rhode Island.

In an interview on Wednesday, Elorza said he believes the contract is the best deal the city could achieve given the fact that police unions have the right under state law to go to binding arbitration. He said that he understands he may face criticism for agreeing to 4.5 percent raises for three years, but he said the city would not have been able to secure larger pension contributions without the bump in pay.

Elorza, a likely candidate for governor next year, said the raises will cost the city an additional $12 million over the life of the agreement, but he expects the pension contributions to reduce to the city’s unfunded pension liability by at least $25 million.To be sure, Elorza is not claiming that the agreement solves all of Providence’s pension challenges.

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The city’s annual audit showed that the pension system was just 22.17 percent funded as of June 30, 2020 with a net liability of $1.26 billion. When you add in a Rhode Island Supreme Court decision from last summer that made it nearly impossible for city leaders to change a pension plan if a court settlement is already in place, Elorza said the city’s annual pension payment is only going to grow (from $90 million this year to $136 million by 2033).

But Elorza said that the police contract also sets a bar for future union contract negotiations, and he expects that the city will secure larger pension contributions from other workers in upcoming contract discussions. City firefighters, for example, currently contribute 9 percent under their existing contract.

While Elorza said he is confident that the agreement will be supported by the City Council, there is a chance that council members – especially those exploring runs for mayor next year – will face community pressure to oppose the deal because it doesn’t include any significant reform measures within the department.

THE GLOBE IN RHODE ISLAND

⚓ My latest: What can Governor Gina Raimondo expect when she takes over the commerce department? I talked to two former secretaries about the sprawling agency. Read more

⚓ My colleague Amanda Milkovits previews today’s Senate Committee on Health and Human Services’ meeting to consider a bill that would require the Health Department to promulgate rules and regulations to designate essential caregivers for residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities during an emergency declaration. Read more.

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⚓ Shortly before President Joe Biden was sworn into office, Ed Fitzpatrick reports that US Senator Jack Reed announced that he will support the nomination of retired General Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary despite having said he’d never again support waiving a seven-year “cooling off” period between military service and the top civilian defense job. Read more.

⚓ Governor Raimondo received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. Read more.

MORE ON BOSTONGLOBE.COM

 Inauguration: My colleague Jeneé Osterheldt writes that as we tuned into the inauguration of President Biden, it was National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman who soothed our souls. Read more.

⚓ HealthJames Pindell explains that while unity is nice, President Biden’s top priority needs to be the COVID-19 vaccine. Read more.

⚓ POTUS: Here’s a helpful breakdown of the 17 executive orders that President Biden signed on Wednesday. Read more.

⚓ Politics: Yes, US Senator Bernie Sanders’ mittens won the internet on Wednesday. Read more.

WHAT’S ON TAP TODAY

Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

⚓ BIRTHDAYS: Rhode Map readers, if you want a friend or family member to be recognized on Friday, send me an e-mail with their first and last name, and their age.

⚓ The Department of Health is hosting its weekly COVID-19 press conference at 1 p.m. 

⚓ The Senate Finance Committee meets at 4 p.m. to discuss federal COVID-19 funding.

⚓ This is very inside baseball, but the House Rules Committee meets today to consider a series of rule changes for the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.