(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) On Thursday, the St. Joseph City Council voted in favor of a pay increase for the Police and Fire Departments to be put on the proposed city budget.
The council originally met with both department's unions in a work session Tuesday evening, but ultimately voted to have city manager Bruce Woody negotiate a salary raise for both agencies.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) met with Woody on Wednesday afternoon to talk about their proposed plan, and the St. Joseph Local 77 Firefighter Union met on Thursday before the work session.
"It's nice to finally be recognized," Sgt. Brett Kelley, SJPD, said. "This is the first time in 17 years that I've seen this happen, so [I'm] very happy."
The council was given four options on potential pay raises for the departments. The first option, originally proposed by Woody, would have given the police and fire department a 1.3 percent increase based on cost of living wages.
On top of the 1.3 percent increase, fire and general service employees would have also received an additional 1.2 percent increase - bringing their total raise to 2.5 percent. This is because these employees received less than the police department in 2017.
However, after the negotiations with the city manager both unions came back with their own proposed budget plan. Their plans were outlined in option four, and would cost the most money for the city.
The FOP said one of their main goals was to establish a pay plan for the department, which would help retain more officers.
"We're loosing three to five year officers to other department's. We're probably not going to loose as many now because they're going to see the benefits of staying here," Kelley said.
Since June, 2011, a total of 52 commissioned police officers have left the department. Nineteen of those officers left without retiring or being fired.
According to Kelley, the department has lost roughly ten officers in the past two years alone to other departments like Kansas City.
The Fire Department said they are also experiencing issues of retaining employees because of pay. Since June, 2011, SJFD has lost 58 total employees with 30 of them leaving without retiring or being fired.
To help combat the issue, the FOP presented a 25 step budget plan to the council. The plan would allow officers to receive a pay increase each year, meaning officers would reach their maximum wage amount by their 25th year with the department.
"We currently don't have any officers in our department that are topped out. I've been there 17 years - have never seen anyone top out in any of the pay grade positions the city says we have," Kelley said.
The pay range for St. Joseph police officers is roughly $41,000 - $63,000, according to Kelley.
In addition, the fire union also submitted a budget that would establish a pay plan of their own. Through their plan, pay would be set for each position rather than by rank.
In total, the police and fire plan would have the biggest impact on the city budget with an increase of about $1.18 million in salary and benefits.
The police would receive a total increase of $750,969, and fire would see a total increase of $555,449.
The majority of the council voted on option four, but Woody said he is concerned this plan could cause some issues for future funds. With this in mind, Woody proposed that no capital expenses be made with the public safety tax fund which was agreed upon by the council.
Woody said the majority of capital purchases for the police and fire departments would have to be taken out of the Cell Phone and Gaming funds in future years.
In addition, to help save money four positions were cut from the general funds. These positions include a planning and community development employee, an assistant city manager, a parking control technician and an equipment operator. Woody said these cuts will save the city a little less than $295,000.
Also cut from the budget will be a $60,000 comprehensive plan review.
The FOP agreed to allow the city to cut $140,000 from the department budget in capital purchases that would've come out of public safety tax for fiscal year 2018-2019.
Woody said he hopes the final city budget will be ready for approval by June 4th, where city council will make their final vote on the budget.