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Hammond residents seek answers for police department raises

Residents packed the Hammond Village Hall for Monday night’s board meeting, many of whom wanted answers as to the reasons for the police department employees’ recent wage increases and bonuses. Another question asked by residents was: How is the village going to pay for those raises, bonuses and benefits package increases?

Former trustee and current village president candidate Erin McComb addressed the board during public comment time saying she believed the decision to give raises and bonuses was made without enough information. She asked the board to “take us along,” to explain their decision and how the police department’s performance warranted such a raise.

At the Jan. 12 board meeting following a closed session, a 2.5 percent wage increase was approved for the entire force, including Police Chief Rick Coltrain. This is in addition to a 1.57 percent increase all union employees received late last year. Coltrain was also awarded a $2,000 bonus, while full-time officers were each given a $1,000 bonus. Part-time officers received a $500 bonus and police department clerk Jean Peterson was given a $750 bonus.

McComb pointed out that the line item on the agenda for the closed session where the raises were decided upon simply read “police evaluations,” mentioning nothing about wages or compensation. While wage decisions have been done in closed session for the past five years, McComb said, there needs to be more transparency on the agenda and wages should have been listed as well.

She closed her public commentary by presenting police department raises data she found in meeting minutes going back to 2011. On May 25, 2011, the department received an approximate 5 percent raise, McComb said. On June 24, 2013, the board approved a 3 percent wage increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, according to McComb’s findings. Then on Oct. 28, 2013, a 1.66 percent raise plus a $2,500 bonus (to share among employees) was given, McComb said. This was a total wage increase of 19 percent over those years, plus a 14 percent increase in benefits.

While addressing resident questions, Trustee Wally Graf said the police department had a pay freeze for three years. When McComb asked when the alleged pay freeze occurred, Graf sidestepped the question without a direct answer.

Village President Tony Bibeau said two years ago the village eliminated a police officer position, so other officers have put in extra time to maintain 24/7 coverage of the village. He pointed out that public works and the clerk’s office received bonuses for their performances when they were short staffed.

“I think they do a good job,” Bibeau said of the police force.

Trustee Laurie Graf agreed, saying Hammond police officers haven’t been getting paid as much as officers in other municipalities. She said the money for the bonuses and raises came from Police Chief Rick Coltrain’s budget, plus employees no longer get $3,000 paid into their HSA under the new insurance.

“We felt we needed to stand behind our police department, especially now,” Gruber said of the recent resident allegations of open records law misconduct.

Gruber added that Hammond basically trains officers for other towns, which is expensive, because they get hired in Hammond, the village pays for their training and they end up leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere.

Graf said while Hammond is never going to be the highest paid police force in the county, at least the raise puts them up toward the middle again. McComb said while researching salaries on the League of Municipalities website, Hammond was already above the 50th percentile before the raise.

Graf said when the village chose to go with the Teamster’s Union for insurance, the board voted to compensate union employees for their union dues. Union employees also received a 1.57 percent raise. The police department employees’ 4 percent raise, which is 2.5 percent above the union village employees, is comparable to the village paying for the union dues, which equals roughly $750 to $800 per year, Graf said. He likened the raise to an increase of about 80 cents per hour, which McComb disputed and asked for his proof in numbers. Graf again did not answer the question.

McComb continued questioning where the money for the raises and bonuses is going to come from considering that the 2015 requested police budget is 19 percent less than last year’s budget. Trustees answered that Coltrain was $19,000 under budget in 2014 and the bonuses awarded add up to about $5,250 and will come out of the 2014 budget.

Clerk/administrator Sandi Hazer cautioned the board on those budget numbers, reminding them the audit on the 2014 budget has not been completed, meaning revenues have not been reconciled with expenditures yet. That number could drastically change once the audit is complete, Hazer said. She expressed concern, saying she thought the board wanted to do away with carry over funds.

Bibeau said after speaking with auditor Tom Kortas, the village has $400,000 in non-designated funds (that has accumulated over the years) that the bonuses could be taken out of if the police department budget doesn’t have enough once the audit is complete.

Graf said he felt the board had a better handle on the numbers when a finance committee was in place and thought that was what they have an administrator for. He said he hates chasing other villages when it comes to police pay, but is tired of losing officers to other municipalities, including smaller ones, that pay more.

“I’m always watching the numbers,” Graf said. “You know that. We can’t penalize officers for doing a good job.”

Candidate forum

Paulette Anderson, a member of the Hammond Events, Leadership & Planning (HELP) committee, invited those running for village president to attend a “meet and greet” forum at the Hammond Village Hall on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 9-11 a.m. sponsored by the committee.

Candidates will be asked questions by residents through the committee.

The committee plans to hold a similar event for trustee candidates once the pool is narrowed to six after the Feb. 17 primary.

Other business

  •  Carrie Benton was appointed to the Hammond Community Library Board.
  •  Topics for the February newsletter were approved, including an update on the sewer plant litigation and police car bids.
  •  The board voted to abolish personal property taxes on rental property, which included a tax on stoves and refrigerators in rental properties.
  •  The board agreed to offer the 2009 Crown Victoria police squad up for bid to any interested parties. Anyone interested has until Friday, Feb. 20, to submit sealed bids to the clerk’s office.
  •  After a closed session regarding an employee review of clerk/administrator Hazer, the board voted to give her a 1.57 percent raise and will consider a merit increase in pay should she complete human resources training.

“Sandi is doing a good job,” Bibeau said. “Everything is on the up and up and the budget process has been easier.”

 
Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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