Public Safety Personnel To Get Raises
Feb 20, 2015 11:20AM
● By Tom Haraldsen
Police and fire department personnel from West Jordan gathered to hear the city council’s decision on a new compensation package for public safety officials. It passed unanimously during the Feb. 11 council meeting.
The men and women who give West Jordan residents a sense of security will now be getting some job security of their own. City council members unanimously approved a new eight-step compensation package on Feb. 11. Retroactive to Jan. 1, the new pay scale should prevent “experience loss” from the West Jordan Police and Fire Departments.
That was the feeling of Police Chief Doug Diamond. Asked by council members in mid-January to develop the step and grade pay plan, he presented the governing body with facts, figures and proposed step increases for public safety personnel in the city.
“Recruitment and retention has been very difficult for police officers in the past couple of years,” Diamond told the council. “The department has lost nine officers to other agencies, with pay being the most prevalent reason. We have three officers that have been given job offers, or are under serious consideration, by the Salt Lake City PD, at a wage increase of approximately $8 an hour.”
With the council chambers packed with police and fire department personnel, Diamond illustrated his point by asking any officer present with more than seven years of experience to stand if they were being recruited by other agencies. Fifteen stood, and Diamond said another officer who was on duty and not present was also being recruited.
In addition, 12 West Jordan firefighters have tested with other agencies, though none have left—yet.
Fire Chief Marc McElreath said, “We’re sometimes thought of as the training ground for other agencies. A few years ago, Doug and I could have switched uniforms, because we were losing firefighters to other agencies. I don’t want to see that happening again.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, long before this particular issue was discussed, Tracy Wyatt, a West Jordan resident and police chief in Taylorsville, got the council’s attention when he said, “As much as I’ve loved cherry-picking your officers for my department, I am concerned as a resident here. The challenges that each of us in public safety face daily can make this career less appealing, so losing experienced officers is significant. The decision you make this year will have long-term impact on this city.”
One concern about the proposal was expressed by a current city employee who is not in public safety. He said adopting the pay plan could send a negative message to city personnel not affected by the increase—that they are valued less than public safety employees.
“It is not unusual for public safety employees to have a different pay structure than that of civilian employees,” Diamond said.
Councilmember Chris McConnehey agreed, saying, “I’m very comfortable with the pay structures to be separate.”
He proposed making the pay changes retroactive to Jan. 1, which the council agreed with when passing the compensation package resolution.
Councilmember Chad Nichols said the council’s concern going forward might be how to pay for the increases, which initially will cost the city a little over $747,000 this fiscal year, compared to the current cost of nearly $400,000.
“I think it’s inevitable that at some point, with costs of everything going up, we’re going to have to look at an increase in taxes,” he said.
When the resolution passed, a few of the public safety personnel clapped softly. For his part, Diamond verbally applauded the council’s decision.
“I’m very pleased, of course, because I think this was a big step for the council to take,” he said. “I think they all understand and all know how important this was for these dedicated employees. It takes three to five years to gain the experience that these men and women need to make the best decisions. We don’t want to lose them to other agencies, and I think the step the council has taken will head off the bleed.”
Diamond, who chairs the city’s compensation committee, said he is committed to also “help fight for all employees” as they look for salary increases going forward.