Sandy police officers and firefighters getting a raise in new city budget
Jun 18, 2018 02:55PM
● By Justin Adams
A Sandy Police Department vehicle parked outside of the department headquarters. (Justin Adams/Sandy City Journal)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The police officers and firefighters of Sandy city will be getting a raise this year.
In back-to-back weeks, the Sandy City Council passed increased budgets for both the police and fire departments. Both departments had been suffering from attrition as their officers and firefighters left to work for other higher-paying agencies in the valley. When city leaders met earlier this year for a preliminary budget meeting, everyone agreed that fixing this problem was the number one priority for the city.
The police department budget passed first on June 5. An initial budget proposal put forward by the city administration in conjunction with the police department would have added an additional $540,000 to be used for officers’ compensation. A revised plan constructed by council members Zach Robinson and Steve Fairbanks added an additional $207,959. That plan was passed unanimously be the city council.
“If I were to summarize this for councilmember (Steve) Fairbanks and (Zach) Robinson,” council director Mike Applegarth said during the city council meeting. “This plan moves Sandy from settling for the average of comparative agencies and puts Sandy PD squarely at the leaderboard. You can see that at every rank and at each step, these officers are making more money relative to the current proposal you’re considering.”
During the May 29 council meeting, Robinson said he was working on a budget proposal slightly different from the one the administration had put forward. “It’s pennies difference,” he said at the time. In the next week, Robinson met with Sandy Police Chief Bill O’Neal to talk about the issue. That meeting led to Robinson wanting to create the larger budget proposal.
“After that (meeting) we went back to the drawing board and looked at a couple other sources of revenue. It was more important to us to put together a plan that will make Sandy City competitive for a long time. And we did that,” said Robinson.
Robinson pointed to the fact that the plan passed unanimously as a sign of the city council’s cooperation. “A unanimous vote shows that our council is 100 percent behind our public safety personnel,” he said.
Sandy Deputy Mayor Evelyn Everton said the increased budget proposed by Robinson and Fairbanks likely would not have happened without the pressure applied by the city administration in previous weeks.
“If our actions forced them to actually go and sit down with the police and have those conversations and understand the needs of the police department and help them make a decision that gave them more money, we’re thrilled with that outcome,” said Everton.
“I think this is a great compensation plan,” said O’Neal, who worked with the city administration to create the original budget proposal, which was nearly passed the previous week with a 4-3 vote by the city council.
“We worked a long time on that previous (pay) scale that was up here,” said O’Neal. “We were very cautious about sustainability … But this scale is just what you guys are saying. It puts us right up there.”
According to Everton, the city administration is somewhat concerned about the sustainability of the plan but is committed to making it work.
“For this administration, making sure the police compensation is competitive is a high priority and so of course we’ll make concessions in the budget to prioritize that money on an ongoing basis,” she said.
Without the increased compensation package, the police department could have been in danger of losing 30–50 officers, according to O’Neal.
“We’ve always been playing catch up. This gets us out in front of them. It feels good,” said Councilmember Chris McCandless.
Originally, the mayor’s office was planning to address the fire department budget in 2019. But during the same council meeting in which the police budget was passed, the city council directed the administration to come up with a similar plan for the fire department, to be presented the very next week.
A combined effort between the city council, fire department and finance department produced a proposal modeled after the revised police department budget.
“It did require a significant amount of work to make this all come together,” said Ryan Lessner, the fire department’s public information officer.
“I’d like to thank the council for giving us this challenge and making it happen in a week,” said Fire Chief Bruce Cline.
Lessner noted that the groundwork for an improved compensation plan had already been laid by the department. “The chief and deputy-chief have been working on this behind the scenes. They’ve been discussing and planning this for a considerable amount of time,” he said.
Robinson, who previously was a firefighter for Sandy city, said that he had received a lot of positive feedback about the plan from his former coworkers. “If I was still an employee for you, I’d be happy with what I’m seeing,” he said.
“This additional compensation where they’re going to get upwards of a 10, 12 or greater percent increase is really going to make a significant improvement for their livelihood and ability to take care of their families,” said Lessner.