Written by John Plestina
The Wolf Point City Council is expected to consider a change in the way police officers are paid when they meet Monday, April 21. Retroactive pay adjustments for officers might also be on that agenda.
The city’s personnel, policy and wage committee, now comprised of mostly new members, reached conclusions Wednesday, April 2, on police compensation issues dating back to 2005.
The PPW committee will recommend to the city council that officers be paid an annual salary based on 2,184 hours per year. That amount would be divided by 24 twice-monthly pay dates, giving officers the same amount on every pay, something several officers said they were concerned about.
Wolf Point police officers have requested that the city pay them an additional four hours for every 14-day period, giving them pay for every hour they work. They are paid salary twice monthly.
The officers work an average of 2,184 hours each year. The national standard for police officers is 2,080 hours per year.
City clerk and treasurer Marlene Mahlum said she discussed the issue with the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority and was told that while the traditional 40-hour work week with overtime paid above 40 hours applies to most workers, federal law allows for law enforcement officers to work up to 86 hours during 14-day periods without paying overtime. Federal law considers it a work period, not a work week.
Lt. Brian Erwin said officers are working as much as 86 hours during 14-day periods without overtime pay.
He addressed a grievance letter that was sent to the city on behalf of the police officers.
“The grievance itself is actually skewed,” Erwin said, adding that the officers were under the understanding that they were eligible for overtime above 40 hours.
“What we’re paid and what we’re worth is not the same,” Erwin said.
“The officers don’t care how they’re paid. They just want to be paid for the hours they are here,” he said.
“I want to be fair. I don’t want to hurt anyone,” city councilman and committee chairman Rollie Paulson said. “My goal is to have a satisfied solution by the next council meeting.”
There was also a discussion about possibly paying officers per hour worked, rather than salary.
The recommendation to the council includes that they continue to be paid salary.
Also at issue is back pay for hours not paid dating as far back as 2005 for one member of the department and 2006 for another.
The committee discussed discounting the amount by 33 percent and not including the current year.
There were concerns that former employees might request back pay.
Paulson said he would discuss the matter with the city attorney.
The committee will meet again Wednesday, April 9, to make a decision on a recommendation to the city council.
There was also discussion that an additional police officer is needed because of the increase in police calls.
Mahlum asked if hiring a sixth police officer would reduce the number of work hours of the other five.
Erwin responded that he would not reduce work hours if an additional officer is hired because of the increasing work load that keeps the officers the city currently has busy.
“There’s no calling in sick. If we’re down one, we’re to the pin,” he said.
In an unrelated matter, the committee voted to recommend to the city council that health insurance costs for all municipal employees increase by 1.6 percent with no change in the available insurance options. The city offers four plans.