MOUNT CARMEL - Borough council may hire an arbitrator for ongoing negotiations with the Mount Carmel Police Officers Association, whose contract expires at the end of the year, said council President Tony Matulewicz.

Despite the pending contract expiration, both Police Chief Todd Owens and Councilman Clem Plisiewicz said residents need not worry.

"As far as public safety is concerned, I am not getting any indication that services will be affected during the negotiation process or after the process is complete," Owens said.

"The police force will stay completely intact. Business will go on as usual. As far as police protection, everything will remain completely the same," said Plisiewicz, one of three council members on the borough's negotiation team.

A deal will not be reached by next week; therefore, police will operate under the old contract, Matulewicz said.

The current three-year police contract, which only applies to full-time officers, is set to expire Tuesday. It has stalled in part over health and pension benefits, he said.

60 percent of budget

The pension cost for police is expected to increase between $214,000 and $375,000 in the future and health care costs are expected to increase by 12.5 percent, from $143,830 to $161,778.

By far, police salaries and benefits, at $999,465.40, are the largest part of the borough's 2014 spending plan, taking up approximately 60 percent of the total $1,652,431 budget.

Salaries alone for eight full-time and four part-time officers cost the borough $450,256. On average, the eight full-time officers make a base salary of $43,062.75. Health, pension and other benefits total $549,209. No one was able to immediately provide actual pay for the officers in 2013.

With no deal in sight at the Dec. 19 regular meeting, borough council passed next year's budget with no increases to the police department's budget.

Plisiewicz said the borough is "keeping its head above water" compared to other communities' financial situations, but council members were forced to close the community pool in order to balance the budget.

"We truly believe our police are doing an excellent job. They deserve raises and benefits," he said. "We're not at war with our police, but where does the money come from in order to give them anything?"

In their current contract, officers did not receive a raise in 2011, but their hourly wages increased by 25 cents in 2012 and 35 cents in 2013.

Additionally, they get $75 for every year of service to the borough - up from $50 in the previous contract. If an officer is employed at the borough for 30 years, he receives an extra $2,250 annually.

Officers are now contributing 5 percent of their salary to their pensions and a flat $500 to their health care plans each year.

The current contract does not indicate a starting salary for new hires.

No negotiations set

Matulewicz said it is in the best interest of the borough to have shorter contracts due to "economic uncertainty," but police like longer contracts for stability.

The borough's negotiating team consists of Plisiewicz and fellow Councilmembers Robert Shirmer and Joseph Lapotsky; the police's team, none of whom could be reached for comment Thursday, consists of Cpl. David Donkochick and Patrolmen William Adamski and Justin Stelma.

Plisiewicz said the borough's committee submitted a new proposal to the police team following an executive session Dec. 19, but police have yet to respond.

No negotiating sessions have been scheduled as of Thursday, he said.

The next borough meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday for the purpose of voting on two new ordinances: one to introduce new practices for the budget and another to set the tax rate for property owners at the current level of 32 1/4 mills.