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Oakdale Police Pay Lowest In County

Oakdale Police Pay Lowest In County

Oakdale Police Pay Lowest In County

Salary comparison with local police a...


POSTED January 15, 2013 8:15 p.m.

 

At a time when the City of Oakdale tries to pull itself out from the recent economic downturn, it must weigh the cost of compensating its employees fairly for their services as other cities also recover and offer more competitive wages to pull away qualified personnel.

In a survey done by The Leader for police officer salaries for Stanislaus County cities, Oakdale officers are at the bottom of the scale for base salary and the department is unlikely to attract quality applicants away from neighboring departments for open positions due to the disparity.

According to the city, an Oakdale officer’s base annual salary is $47,496 to $57,228 with other benefits such as retirement and health insurance. The city no longer pays the retirement contribution for new employees.

The Oakdale pay is approximately $10,000 lower than other Stanislaus County agencies and close to $15,000 less than the highest compensated, Modesto, at $72,829 per year. Only Escalon, a neighboring agency in San Joaquin County with only nine sworn members, had a slightly lower pay than Oakdale at a base of $56,000 per year.

The once 29-sworn member Oakdale department saw its ranks cut to an authorized strength of only 20 just a few years ago. With the untimely death of Paul Katuszonek last November and recent promotions, the department has two officer openings and is accepting applications.

With peace officer standards set the way they are, these are not positions that can easily be filled from the unemployed. Additionally, the testing process along with the mandated training can take close to a year from the application period to qualified street officer. Vacancies aren’t easily and quickly replaced.

“In order for the City of Oakdale to attract quality applicants and retain its current employees, we must provide an adequate tax base to support the services required for a city of a 20,000-plus population,” said Oakdale Police Association President Brian Shimmel. “Currently the Oakdale Police Department is at an all-time low of 0.9 sworn police officers per 1,000 residents. The national average is 2.4 per 1,000 residents.”

With positions cut and staffing low, rapid responses and timely investigations are now becoming a distant memory. Residents are discovering incidents such as burglaries, thefts, alarms, and traffic accidents will often find callers waiting hours for a police officer to respond. When officers do eventually arrive, evidence may have been lost, witnesses are no longer present, and solvability aspects are likely compromised. For cases requiring additional investigation, citizens are often shocked to find that their cases go uninvestigated or unsolved due to a lack of manpower.

For years employees in the private sector have known they can move between employers and be lured away by higher pay and benefits, especially at a time when those desired skills are being competed for between organizations.

According to one member in the department, it is well-known within police department walls that four of Oakdale’s trained officers had submitted applications to neighboring agencies within the last year. One experienced officer is currently going through the final stages of the hiring process of a nearby police department.

“The members of the Oakdale Police Officers Association have not received nor have requested a pay increase in the last five years,” said Shimmel. “We have continued to sacrifice and have foregone any salary increases to assist the city to get through these tough economic times.”

The subject of low pay compatibility should be no secret to city leaders.

The Leader obtained a pay compatibility study authorized by then-City Manager Steve Hallam in 2007.

Even at that time, when coffers were more stable, the study, done by CPS Human Resource Services of Sacramento, showed Oakdale officer salaries more than 10 percent lower than cities identified for comparability based on department size and geographic proximity. Other city line positions were just as low; however others in the study, those in the higher levels of government, were at or above the identified market median.

“When you apply all their benefits, I’ve been told they’re not the lowest,” said Mayor Pat Paul, referring to the city’s retirement contribution and allowance for health care benefits for current personnel.

“The city is paying their entire benefits,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop. “They’re getting a good deal right now.”

But even the factor of “total compensation” – which includes other incentives and employer paid contributions by the city – was taken into account by the CPS survey and the current market trend done by The Leader. Oakdale still remains at the bottom.

“I don’t want us to be the lowest,” said Paul when the figure was pointed out.” I don’t want us to be a training ground and lose good people.”

Shimmel fears the “training ground” factor may occur as the city will have no option but to hire inexperienced officers out of the academy only to lose them to neighboring agencies for better pay and retirement as their tenure, along with city provided training, increases.

“With ‘2 at 50’ we’re not going to get lateral officers from other agencies,” said Detective Max Messina about the department’s recently lowered retirement formula. “They’re going to get their POST (certificate) and go elsewhere.”

Many other of the local agencies still offer the former “3@50” that was offered by the city or a modified 3 percent formula but with a higher retirement age of 55.

“A city pays what a city can afford no matter where you set,” said Councilman Farrell Jackson, who also acknowledged he did not want to see Oakdale become a training ground for other departments.

“We need to pay our officers a fair salary,” Jackson continued, “but Measure O was passed for more police officers, not a higher paid officer.”

Shimmel pointed out there has been a surge in violent crimes in the city along with a growing street gang population along with the recent release of unsupervised parolees by the prison system. These factors, along with vacancies, result in workload increase for officers.

“We see what the surrounding departments are making for doing the same job and it affects how we feel,” said Shimmel.

Dunlop hopes citizens will speak at meetings to inform city administrators what levels of service it wants, but realize it comes with a price. He added that salary negotiations won’t commence until the new city manager, Bryan Whitemyer, takes over in February.

 

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