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Police pay increase proposal fails to gain momentum in O’Fallon

459908461 (1)A last-minute budget discussion regarding increasing police officer pay failed to gain traction with the majority of the O’Fallon City Council during the legislative body’s last meeting of 2015.

During a discussion regarding the city’s 2016 budget, Councilmember Rick Battelle [Ward 3] made a motion to amend the budget to include a 3 percent raise for O’Fallon police officers.

Battelle, after making the motion to amend, spoke at length about the changing world police are finding themselves in.

“I’ve been out of law enforcement for 10 years now … the differences from then to today are really quite extraordinary,” Battelle said.

He referenced events from the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, several times in relation to how much the world of policing has shifted, the new stressors that exist and the dangers present for police officers.

“For over a year, the FBI’s intelligence bulletins reported credible plans to kidnap police officers in conjunction with the Ferguson protest,” Battelle said. “Many officers drive a different way home every now and then to make sure they are not followed. That’s something I didn’t deal with 10 years ago.”

The fear of being charged with a crime for defending themselves also is top of mind for police, according to Battelle.

He said that a police pay increase goes beyond compensating O’Fallon police for the day-to-day dangers of the job. Without a competitive pay structure, Battelle said O’Fallon might start losing their officers to other nearby municipalities with better pay rates.

“With the economy improving and becoming more competitive, we’d better prepare by understanding the dollar value associated with losing trained, educated and skilled law enforcement officers,” Battelle said. “It will cost our city way more than the 3 percent proposed [pay increase] for our police department.”

Battelle wasn’t alone in advocating for the increase. Councilmember Bob Howell [Ward 4] said O’Fallon’s officers were paid below officers in St. Charles County, the city of St. Charles, St. Peters and Lake Saint Louis.

Councilmember John Haman [Ward 3] said O’Fallon’s entire pay structure needs to change.

“The whole pay scale needs to be re-evaluated,” Haman said. “The one who stands to be most out of alignment is the police department. Three percent? We spend more money than that on stupid stuff in this city. Let’s spend it wisely for once.”

The motion to amend the budget and increase police officer pay failed 4-6.
Councilmember Rick Lucas [Ward 1] said he voted against the amendment out of concern about being fair to all city employees. The entire pay structure needs to be looked at, according to Lucas, not the pay structure for one particular group of employees.

“I think we need to be fair to everybody and make sure that those salary structures are handled accordingly,” Lucas said. “It was tough. It wasn’t like I was voting against the police officers. I think the whole salary structure needs to be adjusted as a whole, not [for] an individual group.”
According to Councilmember Jeff Schwentker [Ward 4], he and Councilmember Jim Pepper [Ward 2] had proposed a pay scale restructure several years ago based on experience and education. That, he said, had been shot down.

In an interview after the meeting, Schwentker used a $46,000-$52,000 pay range based on skill and education qualifications as an example of that system, rather than a flat pay increase across the board.

Schwentker said there is a way to make the pay rate competitive with other cities, but giving the police a pay raise above the other city employees isn’t it.

“That is not fair to the other employees,” Schwentker said. “You don’t give somebody 3 percent more than all the other employees. That’s like saying ‘you’ve done a better job.’”

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