Police pay debate continues as council discusses reasons officers are leaving
By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio
Tuesday, March 14, 2017, 11:44 p.m. — A review of committee meeting minutes led to a debate between the members of the Bardstown City Council and Mayor John Royalty about why officers are leaving the city police department.
Chairman John Kelley and committee member Bill Sheckles told the council of the officer pay discussion at the March 9 safety committing meeting, with Sheckles restating his doubts that pay is the main reason officers are leaving the police department.
“Money is not the only reason we can’t retain police officers, there’s other things going on in that police department,” Sheckles said. “We’d all like to make more money, but there are other things going on.”
Royalty said that pay was the reason officers were leaving the department, and he pointed to Nelson County EMS as an example of how pay is an issue.
“Not more than a few weeks ago, we had half a dozen leave EMS,” he said. “Is that leadership of Joe Prewitt or [Judge Executive] Dean Watts, or is it money? I’ll tell you what it was — it was money. It’s all about money.”
Royalty pointed to Police Chief Steve Uram’s enforcement of department policies and procedures as an additional reason why some officers left the department.
“You may have officers who were used to hanging out with each other, or going down to the watering hole and having their fill, and this chief doesn’t allow that,” he said. “We have rules, regulations and policies in place for the first time ever.”
Enforcing rules that were never enforced before may rub some people the wrong way, Royalty said.
Sheckles made it clear his comments weren’t intended to be critical of Chief Uram, though he didn’t believe a 25 percent pay increase for officers was the answer to retaining city police officers. That size of a pay increase wouldn’t be fair to other city departments, and is unlikely to get the council’s approval, he said.
“Money may be one of the issues, but its not the main issue,” he said.
Drawing on his experience as Bardstown Mayor, Sheckles said police officers come to work in Bardstown for a variety of reasons. Some come for better pay, some come for better benefits, and some have come for less pay while seeking for a better work environment. At one time, there was a waiting list of officers who expressed an interest in working in Bardstown.
“In the last year and a half, we’ve gone to officers leaving for whatever reason; we’re not fully staffed; and a very few have left for pay,” he said. “When you say pay is a major issue, I’m not necessarily buying it.”
In an interview with Louisville media after the meeting, Chief Uram clarified that his request for increasing officer pay was 12-1/2 percent, with 25 percent as a longer term goal. He said he understood it would take several budget cycles to bring officer pay up to where it needs to be to be competitive with surrounding agencies.
Uram said the low starting pay can be disheartening for both he and new police recruits, many of whom have families to support. An increase in police pay would help him recruit and retain officers.
Uram is in the process placing a monetary value on the city police officers’ benefits package to offer the council another way to compare how salaries and compensation compare with other agencies.
In other business the council:
— received a letter of appreciation from Steve Moore, son of retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who was honored recently by a city proclamation.
— approved the E-911 Dispatch Budget as presented. The city’s share of E-911 expenses are capped at $130,000 or 40 percent of the E-911 dispatch expenses that are not covered by the countywide 911 fee.
— approved the final reading of amendments to the Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget.
— approved a five-year property tax assessment moratorium for property owned by Fred and Pat Hagan at 215 East Flaget Ave.
— reappointed Clara Makin Fulkerson to the Wickland Board;
— appointed Courtney Taylor to a four-year term on the Bardstown Board of Adjustments.
NEXT UP. The Bardstown City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, 2017, in the council chambers in the City Hall Annex next to the Rec Center on Xavier Drive.