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Analyst warns of police pay hike

A recent arbitration award giving city detectives a 28.7 percent salary increase would continue an unsustainable fiscal cycle in Boston and squeeze funding for basic city services, a fiscal watchdog warned Thursday.

Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the award would likely spur demands for higher pay from all four uniformed police unions, the firefighters’ union, whose contract expires next year, and 35 other city employee unions.

“The concern is that this is going to continue to ratchet up demands for salary increases for all city unions,’’ said Tyler, whose organization is financed by businesses and nonprofits.

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In a decision last month, independent arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden Jr. ordered the city to give the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society union a salary increase spanning July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016, at an estimated cost of $22.8 million. A lawyer representing the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the decision “disappointing.”

David Sweeney, the city’s chief financial officer, said the detectives award represents a roughly 29 percent pay increase, compared with 25 percent for other police unions, 19 percent for members of the firefighters’ union, and 12.6 percent for civilian unions.

“An award of this size would result in a payout of approximately $23 million this year and an annual increase of nearly $9 million going forward,’’ Sweeney said in a prepared statement. “The city’s outside counsel is reviewing the arbitrator’s award and the city’s options.”

Tyler stopped short of urging the council to reject the award, saying more review is needed. But he cautioned councilors to consider the long-term fiscal effects it would have on the city.

Growing labor costs eat up two-thirds of the city’s budget, making it difficult for officials to invest in critical areas such as personnel, prekindergarten, and other basic city services.

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The mayor has struggled to boost his prekindergarten plan, partly because of costs. An advisory committee empaneled by Walsh issued its recommendations more than a year ago on how to create a universal program, but the mayor has not released its findings to the Globe, saying the city has no means of paying for it.

Tyler said the size of the award given the detectives is a result of a ripple effect that began in 2010, when an arbitrator ordered the city to give the Boston Firefighters Union a 19.1 percent pay increase over six years. In 2013, another arbitrator seeking parity in compensation with firefighters awarded the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association a contract at an estimated cost of $87.2 million over six years.

The detectives sought even higher pay than the patrolmen’s association, setting up a troubling pattern for other unions, Tyler said.

The city was notified of the arbitrator’s decision on Dec. 21, with 30 days to present it to the Boston City Council for a vote. The measure will likely be taken up by the council’s Ways and Means Committee and hearings will be held on the matter before councilors decide.

If the council rejects the award, both the Walsh administration and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society union would have to return to the bargaining table.

Council President Michelle Wu said the award has not yet come before the council, and there is no timeline yet for a vote.

“We will weigh the award carefully through a comprehensive public hearing process, once it has been filed with the council,’’ Wu said.

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Many of the councilors contacted said they were unprepared to comment on the award without first seeing it.

“It would be irresponsible to comment without having the physical document to review,’’ Councilor at-Large Ayanna Pressley said in response to a Globe inquiry.

Only Annissa Essaibi-George, the newly elected at-large councilor from Dorchester, said she would support the binding arbitration decision.

An aide for Andrea Joy Campbell, who was also just elected, said the councilor is adjusting in her new role and “gathering all relevant information on the matter as we get set up in City Hall.”

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who also has not seen the award, said he was concerned that members of the city’s largest unions, including public safety officials and teachers, receive higher paying contracts than other city unions. He said the city should establish a more uniform system for all employees .

“I respect our public safety officials. They work really hard. They put their life on the line so it’s hard,’’ LaMattina said. “The system that we have now is broken. And it’s going to get worse. The fire union, the teachers union [will be] seeing this 28 percent and they are going to want more.”


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.