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3% raise disappoints public-safety workers

SOUTH SALT LAKE -- Divisions run deep over pay as the city's top administrators were given generous pay raises while rank-and-file public safety employees didn't fare as well.

The City Council recently approved salary adjustments of up to 21 percent for a handful of department heads while giving only 3 percent merit increases to police officers, dispatchers and firefighters.Public safety personnel, who are working without a contract, are disappointed.

Morale is low, said Patty Collins, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 100 South Salt Lake employees.

Four police officers have quit within the past month, and five others are looking to take better paying jobs elsewhere, she added.

Union members had hoped to land raises between 3 percent and 8 percent over their annual merit raise, which they say would put them in the middle of what other public safety employees are paid along the Wasatch Front.

A South Salt Lake police officer's monthly salary range is $2,121 to $3,264 after 13 years. Likewise, a firefighter's monthly salary range is $2,121 to $3,457 after 13 years.

"That's an average of 5 to 12 percent lower than surrounding cities," Collins said.

Meanwhile, a handful of department heads had their salaries boosted to bring them in the middle of the pack.

City administrators' pay lagged way behind, and they deserved the raises, said Chris Wood, union representative and firefighter. But let's be fair about it, he added.

The reason raises were thin for public-safety employees is because of last year's annexation of roughly a 2.5-square-mile area from 700 East to the Jordan River and from 3300 South to 3900 South.

It's still unknown how that will impact the city coffers, said John Kennedy, the city's labor attorney. The council took a cautious approach, he added.

Police Chief Drew Long and Fire Chief Steve Foote were among the top administrators who received pay adjustments. And those public safety employees who are at the top of the pay scale and don't qualify for merit raise will get a one-time merit adjustment of $700, the council decided.

The council also approved increases to employee pension plans, Kennedy said.

"We realize the annexation puts a strain on the city and it affects all departments, not only us," Wood said. Still the workload has increased.

The Fire Department is getting 85 percent more calls and the police 64 percent, he added.

By law, police and firefighters can't strike. The only resort as Collins sees it is electing council members who are labor friendly.

"Political action is going to be our bread and butter," she said.