Members of Meridian City Council and the city administration struggled to dispel misunderstandings and find common ground on increases for police department employees during a working session on Wednesday.
The council previously voted 4-1 to take funding from 12.5 vacant positions within the police department to fund fundraisers for current and future officers. In response, the city administration proposed to give certified police an increase of $ 1,800 per year and civilians in all city departments an increase of $ 1,200.
However, several city council members spoke on Wednesday saying they did not think the proposed increases were sufficient.
Councilors Dwayne Davis and Joseph Norwood proposed to give certified police officers a raise of $ 3 per hour and civilian employees of the police department a raise of $ 1 per hour.
Funding for the 12.5 unfilled positions, Davis said, would be more than adequate and would allow council to move forward with planning increases for other city departments.
CFO Brandye Latimer said Wednesday’s meeting was the first time she had heard of the $ 3 and $ 1 increases and had no estimate of what it would cost. However, she said she did not think the funds for the 12.5 posts would be sufficient.
“This is my first time learning about $ 1 and $ 3,” she said.
Latimer said removing funds from 12.5 unfilled entry-level officer positions – which start at $ 31,800 per year – would free up about $ 481,000 for fundraising, she said.
A more modest increase of $ 2.51 per hour for certified officers and $ 1,200 per year, or about 56 cents per hour, for civilians in the police department, previously cost about $ 553,800.
“The money you have in your bylaw is not enough to do what you ask,” she said.
Part of the misconception was the use of untrained officer salaries, Davis said. While untrained officers start at $ 31,800, after 12 weeks of academy, they become certified police officers, who receive a starting salary of $ 35,490, he said.
The $ 481,000 calculated by Latimer also did not include money spent on benefits, which run to around $ 7,000 per year.
The board asked Latimer to calculate how much money would be freed up by eliminating the 12.5 positions using the salary of $ 35,490 for a certified officer and the cost of benefits.
They also asked him to see how much it would cost to grant a $ 3 raise to certified officers and civilians in the police department a $ 1 raise. The increases would not apply to officers or civilians earning more than $ 50,000 per year.
Norwood said at the moment his focus was on policing and officer compensation. Once that is resolved, he said, the board and administration could work on a plan to give increases to other departments.
While council and city administration disagree on the numbers, chief executive Tim Miller said he believes they all agree that city employees deserve a raise.
“We want to pay our people as much as possible,” he said.
Miller, however, cautioned the council of the potential long-term effects they had to consider. A large increase could be affordable this year, he said, but the council also needed to look at trends in tax revenue and the city’s overall income to make sure it was affordable going forward.
“I think we are heading down a path that is not financially sustainable,” he said.
Ward 1 City Councilor George Thomas also cautioned council and stressed that the numbers included in the proposed increases did not include overtime. Police officers, as well as firefighters, he said, have already worked significant overtime.
“We assume that there will never be overtime again in the numbers we have now,” he said.
Latimer said it would take several hours to calculate the requested figures, but that she would get the figures out to council members as soon as possible.
The board is expected to continue discussing the increases on Tuesday.