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Pocatello City Council responds to wage increase backlash

On Monday, several members of the Pocatello City Council responded to the debate sparked over the June 13 meeting, proposing a nearly 50-percent pay jump for council members.

The proposal bumps the current $10,000 annual salary to $15,000, which Mayor Brian Blad feels is still not sufficient for what the council members bring to the table.

“I don’t think 15 (thousand) is enough, quite frankly,” Blad said. “It costs a lot of money to be on the city council. You have to take time off of work, you have to pay for the extra activities you’re required to attend, and you no longer have a personal life since it now belongs to the citizens.”

City Council President Jim Johnston says most council members have to give-up their day jobs in order to keep up with the demand, which has increased this year to attending 160 required meetings, along with the average of four committees each council member is required to represent.

“When I am serving on the city council, I am sacrificing my wages, my income, and my livelihood,” Johnston said.

He added, it costs more to serve as a city council member than they rake-in, which he calculated comes out to a little less than three-dollars per hour.

However, some in the community were outraged after the meeting, taking to various social media platforms to express their concern over the wage raises, while several other city departments were also asking for more, much-needed money.

During the meeting, Pocatello Police Captain Roger Schei noted the increasing need for an expanding department as the city continues to see exponential growth.

“As our city grows, we’re going to have to grow, and we’re already behind both the Idaho and national average,” Schei pointed-out.

We reached out to the Pocatello police union representative on Tuesday, but he did not want to speak with the media about the issue, referring us back to the video of the meeting.

We also reached out to Schei on Friday, but have not heard back yet.

However, Blad said it’s still possible to allow both the wage increases, while approving the new budget for the Pocatello Police and Fire departments.

“It’s absolutely possible to do both,” Blad added. “If we were in the position where we felt like that wouldn’t happen, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation…I’m confident, if the $5,000 raise dictates whether or not somebody is safe, the city council would walk away from that in a heartbeat.”

During the meeting, councilman Rick Cheatum spoke out against the raise and councilwoman Beena Rahim remained neutral.

Councilwoman Linda Leeuwrik spoke in favor, saying she hopes the raise will be an enticement for more community members to feel the position is more accessible by being more affordable, once appointed.

The public budget meeting to further discuss the June 13 line items will take place on August first at City Hall.

Watch the video of the meeting here.

On Wednesday, Lodge 13 of the Fraternal Order of Police union representative Patrick Davis responded to the city’s claims with this press release, in full:
” To whom it may concern:

Police officers, and those who work behind the scenes to support them, do not sign up for their jobs because they want to be rich. In fact, most if not all who work in law enforcement choose their path knowing that by doing so, they are basically deciding not to ever be rich. Yet, they still make that choice, and they make that choice because along with any other ambitions or goals they have, they feel a responsibility to their communities to help keep them safe. They have respect for law and order, they do not think it is right to break the law, and they are naturally willing to put themselves in harm’s way for others.

They don’t just put themselves in harm’s way, they live there, every day, every shift. They go into their bat caves, put on bullet proof vests, belts that have guns and handcuffs, then they kiss their spouses and children goodbye and say a little prayer that they and their fellow officers will make it back home after their shift. Then they go out and put themselves in front of danger so that everyone else can be safe. They see and deal with terrible, terrible things that often have long lasting damage and psychological effects. They and their families live here, work here, go to school here. They are tightly woven into the fabric of this community.

Recently the Idaho State Journal published an article calling Pocatello the most dangerous city in Idaho. Almost no one took it seriously, and city officials scoffed at the findings it discussed. Why? Because Pocatello’s finest keep that danger mostly invisible. However, the city officials who downplayed the statistics gave no credit to the rank and file men and women who deal with the dangers so that no one else has to.

Pocatello’s finest are known around the state as the highest trained department in Idaho, and that is something they take great pride in.

They bring so much value to this city, but the City Council takes them for granted and does not care about them or their families. Right now, the Police Department has vacancies it cannot fill. Two more officers have left within recent months, and all of that expensive training and experience is going elsewhere. When training and experience go away, you have young officers facing high pressure situations without mentors to help them through it. That means the likelihood of preventable accidents goes way up.

Why is all this happening? The answer is simple: even at the entry level positions Pocatello’s Police Department is 7% below the average of all similar sized cities in Idaho, excluding Boise and Meridian. That gap widens with experience up to 20% such that master patrolmen from Pocatello can take huge demotions in other departments and still get a raise. Other cities have figured this out, and now have lateral transfer programs to entice Pocatello’s police officers into their departments where they pick up a highly trained experienced officer for a huge discount.

What is the City Council doing about it? Nothing. Last year the city asked the police to take no raise so that the rest of the city could get one. They promised to make it up to the officers. Because of their commitment to their city, the police voluntarily took no raise which for many meant real sacrifices had to be made in their own homes. What was their reward? Nothing.

The City pretended to negotiate with the police. They shot down every proposal for pay raises. They refused to send any member of the City Council to negotiate. Mayor Blad refused to meet with the police. In the end, the City Council offered a mere 2.5% increase on a take it or leave it basis while giving itself nearly a 50% raise. Only Councilman Cheatem was against such a measure. Mayor Blad got a $10,000.00 increase to his salary. Then the City Council withdrew its own approval of additional squad cars for the police because the police were being “greedy,” by asking the City Council to keep its word and make it up to them for taking no raise the year before.

Law enforcement is asking the City to bring wages closer to market average for two reasons: first, so they can support their families with fewer necessary sacrifices, and second, they don’t want to lose any more officers to other departments. The City spends far more training new recruits than it would retaining what it already has. The training and experience is not just expensive to replace, losing experienced officers puts the remaining officers and the public in danger. In order to save a few dollars now the City is willing to put its officers and the public in danger, rather than invest in the future of Pocatello. What is ironic is that by refusing to invest in keeping officers here, the City not only puts everyone in danger, it doesn’t even save the money it thinks it saves.
Lodge 13 of the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police”

You can read the fiscal reports for 2016, 2017, and 2018 by clicking on the respective years.

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