Panel offers parity in police paySuperior’s police sergeants could be on par with union represented officers in terms of pay and benefits if a decision by the council’s Human Resources Committee garners council approval Tuesday.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Superior’s police sergeants could be on par with union represented officers in terms of pay and benefits if a decision by the council’s Human Resources Committee garners council approval Tuesday.
And the police department’s commanders — captains and the chief — will see a slight bump in pay — enough to cover their share of contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System
But fire department commanders — the chief and three battalion chiefs — are going to wait at least a month after the committee held a proposal to bring their compensation in line with union represented staff until the committee can gather more information about the city’s budget prospects.
The decision came after the panel heard proposals from the police and fire chiefs to bring the compensation of supervisors in line with the people they supervise.
The decision boiled down to the individual department budgets. While both department chiefs were asked to cut expenses to compensate for increased costs resulting from negotiated agreements, Police Chief Charles LaGesse managed to create a surplus in his budgets for the next two years despite having to eliminate $226,000 in expenses for each year.
LaGesse is holding open the assistant police chief and two patrol positions to help cut costs in the department for the next two years, a move that leaves a surplus despite all compensation changes for the next two years.
Under the police and fire union contracts, union represented staff agreed to pay 3 percent toward their pensions this year and 5.9 percent next year. They also receive a 3 percent raise this year, and 2.9 percent increase in pay next year to cover those costs.
“They got a 5.9 percent raise and they will pay 5.9 percent to WRS, so no one really got a raise,” LaGesse said.
However, nonunion police and fire staff face a 5.9 percent reduction in their pay because of the negotiated agreement.
Human Resources Manager Cammi Konezny said when new contracts — negotiated under an exemption for public safety employees written into state law — was adopted by the council last month, police and fire managers were also required to make the pension payments, but there was no bump in pay to compensate for the loss.
With sergeants, who bear responsibility of shift commanders, earning only 9 or 10 percent more than master officers, LaGesse said it concerned him that it could make it difficult to recruit the frontline supervisors if that difference were reduced.
Councilor Dan Olson said that “compaction” in wages was a concern for him.
Sgt. John Nowicki said it’s a concern for him as well. With three newly promoted sergeants in the department, Nowicki said they could make the decision to go back to being officers without all the responsibility placed on the department’s shift supervisors.
LaGesse said he didn’t know who would apply to replace them if they did. After all, the job comes with a great deal of responsibility and the lack of a pay differential would make it difficult to recruit new sergeants. The pay difference between sergeants and experienced officers is among the smallest of city staff and their supervisors, LaGesse said.
“I’m the person here that doesn’t get to home,” Nowicki said. “I’m the person who has to be here. I came in the other morning at 2 a.m., not because I wanted to, but because Capt. (Matthew) Markon said they needed me … I have to be here, I have to make those decisions.”
In addition to long hours, working on days off, and having no entitlement to holidays off, Nowicki said sergeants also pay more for health care than union-represented officers.
While police agreed to an increase from 5 percent to 10 percent of the cost for health care coverage in contracts adopted last month, as a sergeant, Nowicki said he pays 12.6 percent for health care.
The committee is recommending the council eliminate the disparity. In addition to raises to compensate for the increased pension costs, the panel is recommending sergeants also pay the same 10 percent for health care that other officers in the department pay.
Finance Director Jean Vito said the changes would be covered within the police department’s budget, but the same wasn’t true for the fire department, where cuts are falling short of the needed $162,000 for each this year and next when the city is already going to be looking at ways to cut expenses to meet rising costs. The shortfall in the fire department budget — about $33,000 — would have to come from other city departments.
For several years, the police and fire departments have gotten the largest share of budget increases, which has squeezed other city departments, said Mayor Bruce Hagen, who was adamant that any compensation increases would have to come from each department’s budget. After all, he said he firmly believes the proportion of spending on public safety is the reason the city’s infrastructure is in its current condition as the proportion of spending on public works projects declined.
Fire Chief Jim Rigstad said the only place left to cut in the fire department is personnel.
The panel will again consider compensation increases for fire department command staff in July, when more information is available about the city and department budgets.
If the council adopts the changes in police command and supervisor compensation, the change would go into effect July 13.