Tooele City took a step last week to prevent other agencies from hiring away more Tooele City police officers and another step toward starting construction on a new public safety building.
The city council on Nov. 7 unanimously passed Ordinance 2018-20, which amends the city’s policies and procedures manual. Such changes include clarifications regarding nepotism, workplace violence, drugs and alcohol in the workplace, holidays and funeral leave.
But while presenting the ordinance to the city council for a vote, Kami Perkins, the city’s human resources director, became emotional and indicated the biggest change is good news for Tooele City police and the department’s ongoing challenge of hiring and retaining officers because of lower pay.
“I think why I am so emotional is because tonight what I’m asking for you to approve is doing something really fabulous for our police department,” she said.
She explained the ordinance includes changes to the police department’s pay plan, which the council previously provided funding for during budget hearings earlier this year. She said the compensation policy will change the pay scale for officers.
“During the budget year, I presented to you how far behind we were in the market,” Perkins said. “… We’re put into a position where we’re going to be more competitive. We’re certainly not going to lead the market. That’s not been the city’s strategy. But we’ll be able to give [more] to our officers, especially at that critical four to five-year time period, where we tend to lose them [to other agencies that pay more].”
Specifics on the pay increase were not explained during the council meeting. But in an interview Monday, Perkins provided the following example: An officer who has been with the department for five years, or three years and holds an Associates or Higher Degree, will see their pay go from $23.49 per hour to $26.94 ($58,836 per year).
The change takes effect Dec. 2. Starting pay for a police officer with zero years experience is $20.60 per hour ($44,990 per year). Perkins said the city council allocated $135,000 for the pay increases to officers.
The funds are part of the 82 percent tax increase the city implemented this year to help pay for the city’s new public safety building, increases for police officers and other improvements and budget shortfalls.
The other change Perkins highlighted to the city council involves the police department’s benefit policy. It is the implementation of a “Tier 2 Public Safety Officer Enhanced Retirement Benefit.”
“This is something that is unique to us that we’ll be offering to our officers,” Perkins said. “Two other agencies are doing something similar, but this is an enhanced 401K contribution. … We want to give our Tier 2 public safety officers a reason to come here and make their career here.”
She explained when the Utah Legislature revised the public safety retirement plan in 2011, it reduced benefits paid to Tier 2-type officers who have been active for 25 years. For 2019, Tooele City will kick in an extra 8 percent 401K contribution.
“This is a recruitment tool and a retention tool,” Perkins said Monday. “We’re trying to get quality people to stay with us.”
She stressed, however, the amount of the discretionary contribution from the city is determined each year as part of the fiscal budget and is subject to change at any time, including reduction to no contribution.
Another change for police officers is to the city’s education assistance program. It has been changed to include an education reimbursement program, which includes a student loan debt repayment assistance program for officers who come to Tooele with student loan debt.
“This will assist officers who come to us and have debts that they’re paying on for a degree relative to their profession,” she said.
It is subject to a maximum $1,000 a year benefit limit, she said. Officers are eligible to receive assistance or reimbursement, but not both at the same time.
During the council meeting, Perkins turned to Police Chief Ron Kirby and said, “I cannot wait for you to be able to sit with your officers and say, ‘Thank you for choosing Tooele City. Thank you for sticking with us when other agencies are trying to encourage you to leave your community.”
The last piece of land needed to build the city’s new public safety building behind City Hall on Garden Street was the other step taken by the city council on Nov. 7.
Tooele City Attorney Roger Baker told the city council that the city has been buying properties for about 22 years for the new police station behind City Hall. He said the first property he was involved with purchasing was in 1997.
“So we’ve been at it for a while,” he said. “Last week, we signed a contract to approve the purchase of the last parcel required.”
That parcel is .313 acres located at 59 N. 100 East. The city council unanimously approved Resolution 2018-60, which includes a purchase price of $241,000 for the land, home, and related relocation and moving expenses.
Baker said a signed deed from the property owner had been received and closing would occur soon.
“In a month, we’ll begin our final preparations of the site so we’ll be ready for a spring groundbreaking,” he said.
Last February, Mayor Debbie Winn announced plans to replace the police department’s current 55-year-old building at 323 N. Main with a new public safety building on 2.45 acres east of Garden Street behind City Hall.
The current projected cost for the building is $10.24 million. The city has applied for an $8.54 million loan from the state’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board. City officials say the amortization schedule is 30 years at an interest rate of 2.5 percent. The annual debt service on the loan would be about $417,000.
Construction costs are listed at close to $8.4 million with engineering services at $594,708; land easements/water rights at $75,000; equipment fees at $642,477; legal, financial consultant and bond issuance costs at $111,500; and project contingencies at $417,125 for a total of $10,238,308, according to the loan application.