CLEARWATER — A new labor agreement between this city and its police officers gives Clearwater police officers a 3 percent raise for the next three years.

More importantly, police said, the contract allows supervisors to award merit pay on each officer’s anniversary date. This marks the first time in three years that step pay, as it is known, will be allowed.

“The big items were the general wage increase, 3 percent, and the step plan being implemented,” said Jennifer Poirrier, the city’s new human resources director. She negotiated the contract for the city with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

“At the end of the evaluation period, or one year after appointment in the pay plan, the officer is provided an annual performance review, so long as that performance review has a rating of satisfactory or better, the officer would advance a step in the plan, and be given the corresponding increase that accompanies that step advancement,” she said.

For the past three years, police officers had received 4 percent annual raises without step pay, Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter told the Beacon.

“The step plan elevates employees as they gain experience, so it is the first time in a while that officers will receive compensation for experience,” he said.

The plan also should mitigate uneven salaries, Slaughter said.

“Without step pay, an officer with six years’ experience was making the same as an officer that was just hired,” he said. “You can see how that would not be equitable.”

The pay schedule has 12 steps. From Step 1 through Step 6, officers receive a 5 percent annual merit increase; from Step 7 though Step 12, they receive a 2.5 percent annual merit pay hike.

The contract states that officers who receive “less than satisfactory evaluations do not merit” step advancement on their promotional anniversary date. They can be reevaluated again in three months, and if then rated satisfactorily, “shall be granted a merit step advancement as of the date of the three-month follow-up review.”

Under the agreement, which the City Council was expected to approve at its March 21 meeting, canine officers will also see 5 percent added to their biweekly paychecks, Poirrier said.

“That was once a flat $40 per payday,” she said. “It goes to taking care of the dog in general and for being part of a special team.”

Even though the last contract expired Sept. 30, officers won’t see salary adjustments back to Oct. 1, the chief said.

“The general wage increase is not retroactive and will be implemented the first pay period after the contract is ratified by the council,” Slaughter said.

“Any step increases would be retroactively applied, but those are given on an employees’ anniversary date of hire, so some will be retroactive and some will get them in the months to come,” Slaughter said.

Paul J. Noeske, staff representative, Florida State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police Inc., said paying officers merit raises helps with recruitment and retention of officers. He also tipped his hat to Poirrier, who became the city’s human resources director when previous director Joe Roseto retired in the fall.

“The city worked very well with us,” Noeske said. “Both sides were mutually cooperative throughout the negotiations.”

The contract also provides for tuition reimbursement, sick leave, holiday pay, extra duty, rules for carrying guns off-duty, and other pro-forma law enforcement agreements.

It also requires drug and alcohol testing, and outlines performance and discipline reviews, line-of-duty injury pay, court attendance and standby time, overtime, and shift differential.