Police wages get boost in new contract

City forced to table by PD staffing crisis

By RICK MORAIN

For The Jefferson Herald

The Jefferson city council on Dec. 8 approved a new five-year collective bargaining agreement between the city and its employees’ union (Local 3949 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME). The union approved the agreement prior to the council’s approval. 

The former contract was set to expire in June. It was renegotiated early because of concern about low police department salaries compared to comparable positions in area public safety departments, particularly the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

However, the new agreement covers all Jefferson city employees represented by the union.

On Jan. 1, all police officers represented by the union — including starting officers — will receive a $2,500 per year increase.

Hiring police officers has become a daunting task in recent years, Police Chief Mark Clouse has said, with far fewer applicants. That has pit departments with better pay and more resources against those with bottom-tier pay and equipment — meaning that Clouse is lucky to hold onto a new officer for more than eight months.

The Jefferson Police Department has cited a turnover rate of 180 percent in the past three years.

Greene County Sheriff Jack Williams had strong words this past summer for the Jefferson city administrator and city council for allowing the police department’s retention issue to deteriorate to the point that 24/7 coverage was compromised.

The sheriff’s office has been providing coverage of Jefferson, when needed, at a rate of $1,000 per shift under a temporary joint 28E agreement that began on Oct. 1 and will be in effect until September 2021.

For its part, the city council in 2019 approved a $2,000 sign-on bonus for police officers, plus $200 per month for the four years of the contract if a new officer had a criminal justice degree.

There are six position “grades” in the new police agreement, representing years of full-time service with the city. The city retains the right to hire experienced employees at a grade level commensurate with their experience.

Starting annual police salaries on Jan. 1 will range from $47,321 for a beginning officer to $54,459 for a Grade Six officer (with 10 years of experience).

On July 1, those salaries will increase by 4.50 percent, then will go up by 4.25 percent on July 1, 2022, and another 4.25 percent on July 1, 2023. Wages will be renegotiated in 2024 and 2025.

Starting pay for a new, beginning deputy in Greene County has been $47,000, Williams said, but will increase to around $49,000 annually in January.

Other employee positions represented by the union will receive wage increases as follows:

Billing clerk (Pay Grade One): On Jan. 1, a 4.50 percent increase to $14.55 per hour for Step One (starting employees) and to $18.59 for Step Six (after 7⅔years).

A 4.00 percent increase on July 1, a 3.00 percent increase on July 1, 2022, and another 3.00 percent on July 1, 2023, and wages renegotiated in 2024 and 2025.

Parks and cemetery workers, recycling workers, sanitation workers, street maintenance workers, wastewater operators and water operators (Pay Grade Three): On Jan. 1, a 4.50 percent increase to $18.72 an hour for Step One and to $23.88 for Step Six. A 4.00 percent increase on July 1, a 3.00 percent increase on July 1, 2022, and another 3.00 percent on July 1, 2023, and wages renegotiated in 2024 and 2025.

As water and wastewater workers receive additional certification (from Grade One to Grade Four), they will receive additional increases.

Parks and cemetery lead person and sanitation lead person (Pay Grade Four): On Jan. 1, a 4.50 percent increase to $20.93 an hour for Step One and to $26.67 for Step Six. A 4.00 percent increase on July 1, a 3.00 percent increase on July 1, 2022, and another 3.00 percent on July 1, 2023, and wages renegotiated in 2024 and 2025.

In addition, all regular full-time and part-time employees represented by the union will receive a longevity payment on their anniversary dates of employment ranging from 11 cents per hour after 11 years to 25 cents per hour after 25 years.

In other action, the council approved the hiring of Marty Murphy as operator of the city’s water plant at a salary of $62,000 per year, effective Dec. 29.

Murphy will be a Grade Three employee. He has been with the Fort Dodge water plant, and was with the Jefferson plant earlier. 

Murphy replaces Tom Schilling, who retires from the Jefferson water plant Dec. 31 after 20 years of service to the city. The council commended Schilling for his service.

To handle any need for interim water plant operation during the transition of operators, the council approved an agreement with Bolton and Menk, the city’s consulting engineering firm, for any operating services needed at the plant. Little involvement from the firm is expected now since the city has hired Murphy.

The council approved the city’s health insurance plan for the coming year. The premium will drop by 7 percent, or about $40,000, from its current level, to a figure a little short of $500,000. The plan covers 31 city employees.

The council accepted the completed construction and approved final payment of $18,683.50 for the roof structure and roof installation project at 100 E. State St., the corner downtown building that formerly housed Angie’s Tea Garden at the northwest corner of the Square.

The council approved an engagement letter with the city’s financial adviser firm, Piper/Sandler, for financial services. The firm will handle the issuance of bonds so the cost of the downtown improvements can be recovered through tax increment funding (TIF) bonds. Cost of the services will be $12,500 plus from 1.75 to 2.25 percent of the gross proceeds of securities sold.

The bond issue will also refinance the city’s existing bond debt at a lower rate, saving the city about $284,000 in interest costs.

The council approved a five-year improvement plan and match funding for a new 10,000-square-foot hangar at the Jefferson airport.

Total cost of the hangar is estimated at $958,900. The federal government will pay five-eighths of the cost, or $600,000, and the city’s share is the remaining three-eighths, or $358,900. 

The plan approved at the Dec. 8 meeting moves the schedule a year earlier, with work now expected to begin in 2022. The hangar is planned to meet a need of increased traffic at the airport expected from the lengthening of the hard-surfaced runway to accommodate small jets.

The council by resolution proposed the sale of city property at 204 E. McKinley St. to James and Heather Hagar for $2,000. The resolution set the date of Jan. 12 for a public hearing on the proposal.

The council placed on third reading and approved the ordinance providing for commercial cardboard collection fees.

Don Orris updated the council on the project to build a new animal shelter and dog park in the city.

He said it remains difficult to close the gap between the available funds the committee has raised and the level of the bids that were announced at the previous council meeting.

The bottom line, Orris said, is that if he can’t find additional funds of $500,000 or $600,000, the project is going to fail. The cost of construction materials today compared to those of a year ago is 70 percent higher, he said.

His plan is to work with the project’s architect to design a smaller facility than originally planned, to reduce expenses by cutting some of the amenities, and to rebid it sometime after the first of the year. But additional funds will still be needed to make the project a reality.

At the end of the meeting, City Administrator Mike Palmer thanked City Attorney Bob Schwarzkopf for his 29 years of service to the city at that position. Palmer noted Schwarzkopf’s service to the community in other areas as well, particularly the spearheading he did to establish the city’s downtown historic district. 

The Dec. 8 meeting was Schwarzkopf’s last as city attorney. He will be replaced by David Morain of the Jefferson law firm of Hoyt and Morain. Morain has previous experience as a city attorney for several area towns.

The Jefferson city council meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 220 N. Chestnut St.

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