Compensation for her officers concerns Fairfield police chief
By DIANE VANCE
Golden Triangle News Service
FAIRFIELD — Counties and municipalities have drafted budgets for fiscal year 2014 and elected officials will finalize department budgets this month.
Two agencies based in Fairfield share a building and similarities in job duties but have different pay rates — Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Fairfield Police Department.
Fairfield Police Chief Julie Harvey did a salary study in September, comparing her department’s pay among police in 13 Iowa cities similar in size to Fairfield.
“When Dave Thomas joined the department in 1999, Fairfield was in the middle of the pack,” said Harvey. “We’ve slipped way down.”
Thomas, a captain, has a fiscal year 2013 annual salary of $51,812 — the lowest salary among eight cities — five cities in the study had no captains for comparison. Salaries for a police captain ranged from Norwalk’s $75,490 to Fort Madison’s $55,201.
All of the other police ranks show Fairfield at the bottom of the salary scale.
A new police officer was paid $34,485 in Fairfield this year, while the other 12 cities’ starting officers’ salaries ranged from $35,214 in Pella to the highest, $45,177 in Norwalk.
The maximum salary for police officers on the force is $41,692 in Fairfield. Mount Pleasant pays a maximum $43,596; Fort Madison $43,825; Washington, Iowa $54,000; topped by Norwalk at $56,472.
Jefferson County’s six sheriff deputies each were paid $50,509 this year.
A communications (911 dispatch) supervisor earns $39,332 in Fairfield, $44,500 in Fort Madison and $65,208 in Pella.
A communications operator is paid $33,508 in Fairfield, $44,096 in Washington, Iowa and $49,920 in Norwalk.
A Fairfield police lieutenant, a crime investigator, is paid $48,275 per year. Among the police departments in Harvey’s study, Pella paid the most at $68,224, and Oskaloosa was fifth-ranked at $56,051.
Jefferson County Sheriff Office’s lieutenant was paid $52,429.
“The sheriff can share a certain percentage of salary with his staff,” said Harvey.
Fairfield Police Department’s lower pay accounts for constant turnover, said Harvey.
“When we hire a new police officer, they sign a contract for four years,” she said. “But some leave for higher pay before that, and pay back the contract. It makes for a younger department.
“We spend all our training budget on new officers,” said Harvey. “Our officers who’ve stayed on the force don’t have an opportunity for training because there’s no money left.”
Newly hired Fairfield police officers receive on-the-job training for the first 13 weeks, said Lt. Collin Smith.
“A new officer field-trains in a patrol car with a training officer,” said Smith. “The department pays for all uniform and duty-related equipment used on the job.
“After 13 weeks working with an officer in Fairfield, the new officer is sent to Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. That costs $8,500 to $9,000. The department pays for fuel to drive there and back, the costs of the academy and room and board,” he said.
The academy is at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Smith said new officers are not sent right away because the department wants to work with them to make sure it’s a good fit before paying the academy costs.
“In the 12 years I’ve been here, we’ve averaged a new officer once a year,” said Smith.
Harvey said it’s not only police officers but dispatchers who also move on to higher paid departments.
“We had an officer leave Feb. 21, and I know I have another officer and a dispatcher looking at higher paying positions,” said Harvey.
Fairfield has a 28E Agreement with Jefferson County about the dispatchers, who serve both agencies.
“Dispatchers are my employees,” said Harvey. “The sheriff pays for the communications equipment.”
A big expense in the police department’s budget is retirement funding.
Fairfield Police Department, because the city is larger than 8,000 people, is mandated by the state to participate in the Municipal Fire/Police Retirement System of Iowa. City employees are covered by IPERS.
“On July 1, [beginning of fiscal year 2014] the police and fire departments pay 30.12 percent of each salary into this retirement fund,” said Joy Messer, Fairfield city clerk. “Each employee in the police and fire department also contributes 9.4 percent. That’s 39.52 percent of each salary, a large amount. It’s mandated, and it keeps rising. Next year, it goes up to 41.66 percent.
“Those departments pay a higher amount toward retirement, even though we’re covered by the same system,” said Messer. “For instance, as city clerk, my employer will pay 9.27 percent, and I will contribute 6.18 percent.”
Law enforcement personnel can retire at age 55 if they have 22 years of service, added Messer.
“Our retirement system kills us,” said Harvey. “It takes more money out of our budget.”
Harvey’s study also compared 13 Iowa cities’ police chief salaries. Fairfield came in lowest at $57,304 per year.
Recently retired Sheriff Jerry Droz was paid $63,149 in fiscal year 2013.
Fairfield’s fiscal year 2014 city budget proposes giving a $5,000 raise to five department heads, which includes the police chief. If approved, that raises Fairfield’s police chief salary to $62,304 per year, bumping it up to 10th place in the same 13 cities list of 2013 salaries.
In Harvey’s September study, the chief of police salaries in fiscal year 2013 were from highest to lowest:
• Norwalk and Pella, each at $88,000
• Le Mars, $82,000
• Storm Lake, $79,040
• Waverly, $76,144
• Carroll, $75,924
• Oskaloosa, $72,276
• Spencer, $71,066
• Washington, $65,000
• Mount Pleasant and Perry, each at $62,000
• Fort Madison, $59,240
• Fairfield, $57,304