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A Monticello Police Department officer is handed a life vest and gas that rescuers picked up from the river during a river rescue July 4 near American Legion Post 81.

MONTICELLO — How much should longevity, the amount of time a person has worked for an employer, matter when it comes to salary?

That’s the question the City of Monticello has been asking itself as officials work on a plan — a few years in the making — to restructure how public safety officials are paid.

The Herald Journal took a close look at how police officers, in particular, are paid, though a payment restructuring plan will also include other public safety officials, such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Police officers are paid a base salary determined by rank, which can be inspected by the public upon request. Earning additional compensation is possible as the city doles out longevity pay, which was budgeted last year for $13,350.

This addition to officers’ salaries is not reflected in personnel files.

Documents show officers with a range from three to eight to 20 years of experience getting paid equal amounts: $44,541. Representatives from the city pay-clerk’s office referred to city attorney George Loy for explanation as to why the added longevity pay wasn’t represented in the personnel files.

Loy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The new payment structure, referred to as a “salary matrix” by Mayor Ken Houston, will ideally include more than just additional compensation for numerous years in the department.

“Experience should be recognized,” Houston said, “so that’s why the City of Monticello, way before I got here, chose to give longevity.

“I don’t believe in longevity. I don’t think it’s the thing.”

The city plans to change the dynamic of the salary matrix, Houston said, to focus not just on years spent with the Monticello Police Department, but also on number of trainings attended, special training taken and other factors, such as if an officer were to obtain a master’s degree.

“Being here a long time and experience is not always the same thing,” he said. “Experience should count for something.

“My thing’s all about education. It doesn’t mean that you have to go to college ... but you need to be trained, you need to be updating your training, you need to keep your training modern and up-to-date. And so we should recognize … somebody that works at making himself the best employee he can be, and I have to say it that way.”

Houston was adamant that while experience is important, the mere act of sticking around the department for a long time shouldn’t automatically grant one a higher pay. In the mayor’s opinion, an officer — or any public safety official — should be paid in accordance to how much training, education or work they go through to better themselves at their job.

Specialized training, like becoming part of the dive team or wreck reconstruction team could be rewarded with additional compensation under the new salary matrix.

“We want to recognize those people (who) want to make themselves a better employee for the city,” Houston said. “So the way we’re looking at it now. If you come with us and you work toward becoming a better officer each and every year in time ... we think that has value. Not only will it have value in the amount of money you make, but it will also have value in your promotion.”

With these new ideals in mind, several city officials have been involved in the decision making on how exactly the new matrices will work among different public safety departments. Houston said members involved in ADA, city council, board of works, fire and police departments were consulted in a committee focused on restructuring public safety compensation.

Houston said the group was working to pass the new matrix by October and be instituted in time for the following year.

“Did it make sense anymore today,” Houston said, “that just being here for a certain … amount of time is not a real good reason to offer somebody more money?”

According to a representative from MPD and Clerk-Treasurer Jim Mann, the department pays for standard officers’ training, using about $13,000 allocated for “travel and schools” and “officers continuing education” in the city budget.

Police Chief Randy Soliday explained how policemen — as there are currently no women on the force — are first educated through the police academy, the hiring process required before starting on the job and going through the standard mandatory training.

Police need 24 hours of in-service training to maintain their certification. Such courses include helping those with special needs, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism as well as courses in identifying precious metals and hazardous materials, firearms training, and emergency vehicle operations, according to Soliday.

Each year, police officers are re-trained in these courses regardless of having previous training in the subject. These requirements can result in officers with decades of experience retaking the same trainings every year.

“Our officers usually start here and retire here,” Soliday said.

Soliday understands the need for training in the same courses each year and he acknowledges the need for re-training when information changes. However, he questioned the relevance in retaking courses where subject content generally remains stagnant throughout his time with MPD.

Certain trainings are required across the board for all officers, though additional specialized trainings are available for those seeking promotion or a more diverse skill set, like joining the dive team for emergency personnel or becoming a police chaplain.

“The officer makes the badge, Soliday said. “The badge doesn’t make the officer.”

Soliday said if an officer goes through specialized training that will ultimately better the police force, MPD pays for that training instead of the individual officer.

Specific trainings are required each year for police officers to remain on the force. Still, it’s up to the individual officer whether or not they push themselves to take further training and educational courses to attain an advanced skill set within their department.

Alex Weliever and Zoey Fields served as summer 2019 interns for the Herald Journal.