Glenwood Springs City Council agrees to add another police officer
An extra police patrol officer has been added to the Glenwood Springs city budget for next year, but actually getting new cops on the street may not be as easy as coming up with the money to pay for them.
City Council last week approved a $78 million 2016 budget that includes three new police department positions. That will include one extra patrol officer besides the one that was already in the preliminary budget, as well as a second code enforcement officer.
To cover the additional $81,390 cost for wages and benefits to hire the additional police officer, the city will put off hiring a sales tax coordinator that had been in the preliminary budget, said Charles Kelty, city finance director.
“That was mostly a placeholder just in case,” Kelty said, explaining that the position is not needed immediately due to a recent switch to online sales tax collection.
“Down the road, we will need another body in the finance department,” he said.
But just because the city has budgeted to hire new employees doesn’t mean it has been successful in filling some types of positions due to wage issues. Among those are police officers.
City Council has wanted to hire extra police officers in an effort to enhance foot patrols downtown during the summer tourist season, especially after problems this past summer with loitering and panhandling associated with the increasing number of vagrants in town during the warmer months.
During recent council discussions with staff about adding another police officer, though, it was pointed out that the city has had problems attracting enough applicants to even initiate the testing process.
Part of the issue is wages, or more specifically matching the wage to the local cost of living, Susan Kurk, human resources director for the city, said during a council work session last week to discuss a recent wage study.
That comes into play in hiring for numerous positions, not just police, she said.
“We tried four times to hire an assistant city engineer,” Kurk said. “The pay was fine, it was the cost of housing that turned people away.”
The wage study found the city is about 3 percent to 5 percent below the market rate for certain types of positions.
However, council rejected a recommendation to give an average 4 percent across-the-board market wage increase to city employees and bring the wage schedule up in an effort to retain and attract workers.
“I don’t agree with this study,” Councilman Matt Steckler said, adding he would prefer to see a study that compares pay for city jobs to comparable free-market jobs.
Instead, the study compared pay for public-sector jobs in the region only, he noted.
“I would rather look at it position by position … and address the ones where we know we have problems hiring people,” Steckler said.
Council did agree to include money for a 2 percent performance-based merit increase for city workers next year.
Mayor Michael Gamba, in a followup interview, agreed with Steckler’s assessment of the wage study.
“At this point I think what we want to do is re-evaluate the study and look at each position and where we might want to make some adjustments,” Gamba said.
While it’s hard to compare police officer pay to anything other than what another municipality or county pays for the same position, some city positions do compete with the private sector, Gamba said.
“We need a study that looks at the true competition for those positions, and if we are low in the marketplace, then we need to adjust that,” he said.
Besides the difficulty attracting police applicants, Police Chief Terry Wilson has also pointed out that it takes time to get an officer trained and up to speed before they can even go on patrol duty. That means it’s possible the police staff will still be short-handed come summer when the extra foot patrols are desired.
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.