Sandy city nears passage of budget, pay raises for police department
Jun 01, 2018 09:15AM
By Justin Adams
Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn talks to a group of police officers following this week's city council meeting. (Justin Adams | Sandy City Journal)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The Sandy City Council nearly approved a budget for the city’s police department for the next fiscal year on Tuesday night. A motion to pass the department’s requested budget, which includes an increased pay structure for police officers, failed in a 4-3 vote in front of a crowd of about 40 officers who attended the meeting in hopes that it would be passed.
Some of the city councilors who voted against passing the budget said they weren’t necessarily opposed to it, but just needed more time to fully understand it.
“I am a friend of the police department and I think you guys know that. I think you guys are great and you do a great service to our community,” said Council member Chris McCandless.
“But I’m just not that bright. It’s going to take me longer to absorb it and to fully vet it and to understand what decision I am actually making. And I don’t have all those questions today so I can’t stand up today and say I’m for it.”
Likewise, Council member Steve Fairbanks, who voted against the budget’s passage, said he did not want his vote to be viewed as denigrating the police department or its efforts.
“We just have to look at it a little more and be more comfortable with it. As much as we love you, there’s a lot of people wanting stuff from us and we have to figure out a way to make it work,” said Fairbanks.
The proposed budget is asking for an additional $540,000 to go towards restructuring the pay scale of the department’s officers that would allow officers to reach a designated max pay level in 12 years instead of 17. It would also raise the designated minimum and maximum pay and institute a 4 percent raise in between each one-year step of the scale.
Normally a substantial increase in one area of a city’s budget means sharp cuts in another department, but that’s not the case here, according to Deputy Mayor Evelyn Everton.
Everton said that 90 percent of a police department budget increase is coming from budget adjustments, not cuts. According to her, the administration went through the city budget, item by item, and lowered budgeted amounts to reflect the actual average spending amount of the last few years.
The remaining 10 percent were cuts to areas that would not impact city services or employees, such as spending less money on Christmas lights for decorating city hall.
Council member Maren Barker made a motion to pass the police department’s proposed budget without modification. “If they’re happy with it, I’m happy with it,” she said.
Barker also said that in her previous two years of being on the city council, the mayor’s proposed budget passed without any such opposition.
“What put you in this situation was not questioned by one of these council people. I think that’s something that needs to be said,” said Barker, addressing the crowd of police officers gathered in the back of the council chambers.
A similar sentiment was echoed by the city’s administration.
“I can’t tell you how frustrated I am,” Mayor Kurt Bradburn told a group of police officers following the city council meeting. “I just hope you know that priority for me means that you’re actually a priority in the budget. It’s not just lip service. I’m tired of lip service, that’s how we’ve gotten where we are.”
“I can tell you that the four people who voted against it last night have been there for a long time and never once did they question the mayor’s budget proposal in the past,” Everton told the Sandy City Journal. “To us, it feels a little political. If it was something where every year they had challenged the mayor’s proposal, then we would say ‘Okay great, they’re doing their job,’ but they haven’t ever done that in the past, especially the four that voted against it last night.”
Fairbanks told the Sandy City Journal through an email that he feels Everton is misrepresenting the council. “The Council said they were not through analyzing the budget and voted to postpone approving it. This is a far different budget than in the past and has huge impacts,” he wrote.
The city administration and the police department fear that failure to pass the budget as proposed could lead to a “mass exodus” of officers from the city to other departments around the valley that are willing to pay more.
According to Sandy Police Chief Bill O’Neal, a Sandy officer in their ninth or 10th year, for example, could make $10,000 to 20,000 more just by transferring to another city in the valley that has a shorter pay scale of nine-10 years (compared to the 17-year scale that Sandy currently uses).
“You can’t blame them. They’re just trying to support their family,” said O’Neal. “It’s an effective recruiting tool.”
After the city council meeting, there was an individual from the newly formed Herriman Police Department handing out business cards to Sandy officers as they left the city hall building.
“There were a lot of officers who might have made that decision to leave last night,” said O’Neal. “If some of those officers left the city council meeting saying ‘Well, this is a done deal. I’m out,’ then they’re walking down the steps and get handed a card, they might just say, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
According to O’Neal, the department already has nine vacancies that it has been unable to fill and another 11 officers are considering leaving. Without this pay raise, O’Neal said he could “easily” see the department reach a point where it as a total shortage of 30-50 officers.
Despite the budget’s failure to pass on Tuesday, O’Neal said he has been encouraged by this year’s budget process.
“In the past 23 years that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a more cooperative effort between ground level officers, the union, police administration, city administration and the city council. That speaks volumes of this new administration,” he said.
The proposed budget has been in the works since early this year. At a February 6 preliminary budget meeting, Bradburn said he had met with the police department to discuss details of how to improve their compensation plan. Nearly every member of the city council, as well as the administration, listed compensation for public safety employees as their first or second priority.
“I think we’re going to lose a lot more officers than people are expecting,” said Council member Kris Coleman-Nicholl at that meeting.
Fast-forward about four months. While city officials still universally agree that something needs to be done, not everyone agrees on the specifics.
Council member Fairbanks said during the Tuesday meeting that he would like to see less of an increase for higher-ranking officers and instead put that money towards even higher increases for the lower-ranking officers.
Council member Zach Robinson also said that he had some ideas on paper that he’d like to bring forward as possible changes to the proposed budget, but also said that he would be totally fine if it passed as is. Robinson later voted for the passage of the proposed budget.
Mayor Bradburn expressed frustration during the meeting that the council wanted to modify the proposal.
“What we proposed in the compensation plan was a collaborative effort from everybody. I don’t know what it takes to fix these guys’ pay scale. That’s why I sat down with the people who do know. So it’s not like we haven’t spent months looking at all the things you just mentioned,” he said.
Sandy residents who are interested in this issue are welcome to come to the next city council meeting on Tuesday, June 5, where council office director Mike Applegarth said he thinks there will be a more detailed round of discussion.