SYRACUSE — City officials will not renege on a perceived promise to bump up the pay scale of members of the police department, using the salary difference paid to retired police chief Brian Wallace in comparison to the wage being paid Chief Garret Atkins.
After a discussion of the issue Tuesday in a work session, council members informally decided not to press the issue of how the $10,000 difference was being allocated to SPD officers as part of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget approved in June 2012. They did say they would use a March salary retreat to look at the pay scales of all SPD officers and how they compare with neighboring communities.
Comparisons at the moment show the scale to be low, a reality that has led to the loss of five officers to other departments in the past year.
Council members Karianne Lisonbee and Brian Duncan requested the matter be put on the work session agenda.
Normally the mayor, in concert with the city manager, puts items on the agenda for discussion, but the council does have the authority to force items on the agenda, given the support of at least two council members.
Duncan said any difference in salary in the transition between chiefs needed to be recovered by the city.
“Realistically, that’s the way business works. We need to recover those fees as opposed to giving them,” Duncan said.
Lisonbee said she wants to see the pay scale looked at in detail and how it compares to other departments.
Atkins said he spoke with one of the officers who left the SPD for a job in Kaysville that paid $1.20 more an hour. He said concerns echoed by the officer were not only pay, but the perception that the city council didn’t have the officer’s back.
“If this is something that was promised to the employees, however it was done, it further erodes trust,” Atkins said. “If this was something that was portrayed, to open it up now betrays some trust issues.”
Atkins said a comparison of wage scales for new officers between Farmington and Syracuse showed SPD officers make $2,000 more a year and handle more fines and cases.
Duncan was troubled by the perception that a promise was made about how the money would be used.
“Apparently some promises were made, that I don‘t think the council made,” Duncan said.
He noted he had argued for a discussion of pay scales for police and firemen earlier this fiscal year, using a $150,000 surplus to address those scales, rather than putting that money toward merit pay increases.
Lisonbee also reminded people she had pushed to put $50,000 of the funding for merit pay increases toward bumping up salaries in both the police and fire departments.
Several residents used the citizen comment portion of the regular council meeting to urge the council to address the low pay scale in the SPD.
Wendy Wallace, wife of the retired chief, took shots at the council for the fact that the matter came up after the budget has already been approved.
“It was something that was voted on nine months ago. I’ve been around and seen many governing bodies come through the city. The last couple of years have been hard on me and my family. I’ve never seen, in the 20 years, a more nonfunctional, noncaring governing body,” she said.
Resident Terry Palmer noted he too had raised concerns about raising salaries for officers earlier this year, using 90 percent of the $150,000 merit salary funds for police and fire.