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The City Journals

City council approves pay raise for senior fire and police personnel

Jan 13, 2020 12:00PM ● By Bill Hardesty

SSL City Council works on a budget amendment providing a pay increase to certain public personnel. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Over the past two meetings, the South Salt Lake City Council has worked on a budget amendment to provide an additional pay increase for certain public safety personnel. On Dec. 4, they passed the budget amendment.

First work meeting

During the Nov. 20 City Council work meeting, Councilmember Ben Pender put forth the idea of a budget amendment to provide pay raises to police sergeants and lieutenants and fire captains and battalion chiefs. In addition, he proposed an added merit step, allowing top-outed public safety personnel to receive a possible pay increase. 

Pender referred to a new October pay comparison completed by the Unified Police Department (UPD). Pender pointed out with the pay increase given this year, entry officers are now rated five out of 13. However, topped-out officers are 12 of 13. In the case of senior officers, South Salt Lake Police Department sergeants are 11 of 13 and lieutenants are 12 of 13.

Pender's proposal would make SSL more attractive for senior officers and experienced officers.

The budget amendment would cost $145,128 and go into effect Jan. 1 until fiscal year 2021, which starts in July.

When asked how to pay for the amendment, Pender suggested taking it out of Funds Balance. Funds Balance is like the city's savings account. Mark Kinder, councilmember at-large, voiced support of the idea.

Other council members — Sharla Bynum, Portia Mila, and Ray deWolfe — while liking the idea of helping public safety personnel, voiced concern about having a sustainable source for the pay increase.

At Chairman Pender’s discretion, the council heard from Police Chief Jack Carruth, Interim Fire Chief Terri Addison and Kyle Kershaw, director of finance.

Carruth started his remarks by saying, "This is the first I have heard of the idea." 

He voiced concern about the city employees that work within the police department and weren't eligible for the earlier 9% pay increase that was given in July. He mentioned that morale was an issue within the department, and this was the second time pitting city employees against public safety.

"I will never sit up here and say no to giving my officers and staff raises. I just think we had an opportunity to go about this the right way. We are cherry-picking and we are isolating groups and segmenting them within the police department from each other," Carruth said.

Addison asked the council to look at everyone — public safety and public employees. He suggested to fix the whole problem together.

"We got raises on their backs," Addison said.  

Kershaw told the council that they just received word that the state allotment for homeless migration will be $300,000 less in fiscal year 2021. This means more money to pay for the additional 12 police officers and 12 EMTs will need to come from city funds next year.

Kershaw voiced support for the chief’s remarks and voiced concern about passing a budget amendment without a dedicated revenue source and without looking at all competing priorities.

"Their time will come. We need to fix parts as we go along. The senior staff has suffered long enough," Pender said.

It was decided to continue the discussion to the next work meeting and hold a public hearing during the next city council meeting. (Dec. 4)

Dec. 4 meeting

In the work meeting, the council continued to discuss the budget amendment. 

Pender pressed that the budget amendment would, "solve a pay inequity" and a "little bit is better than nothing."

deWolfe pointed out that this was a difficult issue because while there is a need, they are also leaving it for the next city council to resolve.

"It is good to fill the gap, but not a good budget practice to do it without a sustainable source," deWolfe said.

The action was moved to a public hearing later in the evening. During the hearing, no residents spoke either for or against the budget amendment.

Chief Carruth did take the floor to tell the council that UPD is changing the way they are charging for crime scene processing. 

Currently, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between SSL and UPD states that UPD will bill out their work on an hourly basis. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, UPD is rescinding the MOU and will charge an annual fee of $202,000. The cost of crime scene processing services has been between $15,000 and $25,000 annually. This means to keep services with UPD, the city will need to find about $185,000, which is a new budget need.

Carruth mentioned they looked at bringing it in-house, but that would cost more than the $202,000 and have less abilities. They checked with other agencies. West Valley was not interested, and they are awaiting word from Salt Lake Police Department.

Kershaw suggested that both budget needs be joined, and staff would write an ordinance for the next meeting.

Pender asked, "Can we pass what we want to pass this evening and put that on unfinished business for next week? ... I don't want to hinge this that is in front of us tonight that has been planned. Knowing the chief has had this information for a month. I get doing your homework, but this information would have been helpful a couple of weeks ago for us as we are doing this budget amendment. I would say we go forward with this and if that materializes whether Salt Lake City or UPD we may have to call a special meeting and do another budget amendment."

Kinder voiced agreement with Pender and asked how the UPD charge will be billed.

Before there was answer, the mayor suggested it be tabled for the new city council.

In response to which one, Wood said, "I would like both, personally. But certainly, the crime scene one."

As chair of the council, Kinder called for a motion. After some silence, City Recorder Craig Burton, pointed out there was no ordinance before the council.

Kinder was surprised and asked Kershaw how long it would take to write an ordinance. Kershaw turned to legal.

"Generally, you publish your ordinance at least 24 hours in advance of the public hearing. My understanding was that the conversation was still in flux and additional information was requested as of yesterday. ... So, I'm not sure anyone had the information to put an ordinance together," Hannah Vickery, the deputy city attorney, said.

A motion was made to move to the next meeting. However, Pender asked the council's attorney, Doug Ahlstrom, for an opinion on the need to post the amendment for 24 hours.

Pender pointed out that during budget times, the staff was running to their offices and putting together ordinances. He wondered why not today as it was in the past.

Ahlstrom said there should be an ordinance and it should be written for everyone to see. When pressed about the 24-hour need, he said he had to think about it because this situation has never come up before.

"It has always been you get staff to cooperate with council and get you the documentation you need right when you need it and not to have it in advance is ridiculous, I'm sorry," Ahlstorm said.

He went on to say that if the council wanted to act tonight, they could pass the resolution and ratify it next week when the written ordinance was in front of them.

Kinder agreed and called for the motion. The budget amendment was passed 7-0 on a voice vote. The written ordinance was passed at the Dec. 11 meeting.