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Hammond trustee speaks against amount of police raises

During what most thought would be a routine agenda item amending the budget for previously approved police department bonuses, Hammond Village Trustee Lynn Pabst spoke up and urged other trustees to rescind the 4 percent police department employee raises and to revisit the bonus amounts awarded to those same employees at Monday night’s Hammond Village Board meeting.

“Our biggest mistake is we don’t use our administrator to her full capacity,” Pabst said after acknowledging that he voted against the 4 percent raises after a closed session meeting one month ago. “I feel the police department should have worked with Sandi (Hazer, clerk/administrator) more on the raises.”

Pabst also said he felt intimidated during the closed session police department review and compensation discussion because Police Chief Rick Coltrain was not asked to leave after stating his case for raises.

“I think if he had left I would’ve voiced my opinion more,” Pabst said. “Maybe more would have felt more like I did.”

Pabst said he felt the board didn’t do its due diligence when passing the 4 percent pay hikes.

“We are all busy and maybe we don’t have time to do all the things we need to do to run our board correctly,” Pabst said.

He then proceeded to distribute information he researched concerning surrounding municipalities’ police department wages. With the recent increase, Hammond is above many neighboring towns, according to Pabst.

“We compensate our police officers pretty well,” Pabst said, after Trustee Laurie Gruber pointed out his salary numbers included the recent raises. “I think we’re in the ballpark.”

Pabst also said he thinks it’s great a department head can save money but thinks the unaudited number of $18,000 surplus in the police budget at the end of the year is excessive. Hazer added that financial advisor Tom Kortas was surprised the board used the unaudited number of $18,000 surplus when considering funding the raises because the actual audited surplus total is $1,900.

Trustee Wally Graf said that the money Coltrain receives from grants is also revenue, which goes into the general fund instead of being counted in the police budget numbers.

Pabst lamented the fact that Hazer was on vacation during the closed session police department review and compensation decision and felt she should have been included.

“I think we have very good employees, all of the same,” Pabst said. “But we should treat all employees the same.”

He urged the board to vote against the budget amendment and rescind the 4 percent raises, instead giving them the 1.57 percent raise other village employees received. He also raised the question of discussing the awarded merit bonuses.

“I won’t vote to do that,” Graf said. He added that he was irked at the “incorrect” information shared by president candidate Erin McComb at the last meeting during public comment time and wasn’t prepared.

Village President Tony Bibeau jumped in, saying the raises were warranted, partially due to the fact that retaining officers is important since training a new officer costs the village roughly $5,000 a crack.

“Rick didn’t ask for what we gave him,” Gruber said. Before Rick came in with his proposals, he had numbers from Sandi. He actually asked for less. He has been trying to save the village money on a lot of things. We felt the money is there otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. Tom Kortas said the money is there.”

It was said that Coltrain, who has over 20 years of experience, makes $65,000 per year, while the Woodville Police Chief, who is in his first year, makes $62,000 per year.

McComb told Graf that her numbers presented at the last meeting concerning police department raises over the last few years were indeed accurate and taken directly from meeting minutes. She said expenditures and wages rose 19 percent in the last three years, while the board had budgeted for an increase of 22 percent. Her point wasn’t about that increase, but the fact that Graf said there had been a police department wage freeze for three years, when the minutes show that to be untrue.

“I have a real problem with you saying I wasn’t accurate,” McComb said. “My whole comment was to ask you to bring us along and show us you did the work (before making the decision).”

Former trustee and current candidate Sandy Brecht asked the board how it thinks the other employees feel, considering they only got a 1.57 percent raise and the police officers got 4 percent. She added that some library employees even declined to take bonuses.

“Some of us don’t like the merit bonus, so with another board that may change,” Graf said.

Trustee candidate Tony Endres said if the only reason a department head is saving money in his or her budget is to get a raise, then that’s unacceptable.

Bibeau adamantly defended Coltrain, saying that statement is not true. He applauded the police department for picking up the slack when an officer position was cut, much like the public works department had to do when a position was cut. McComb added that much of the slack was actually filled in by part-time officers.

Public works employee Bob Trudell added his two cents, saying that thanks to union employees the village was able to save $70,000 per year by switching to the Teamster’s Union for insurance. He said he’s fed up with the board saying the union employees got an $800 bonus, when in fact that money is not in the pocket of union employees, but pays the union dues.

“I will tell you that when it comes to budget time next year, I will be more diligent,” Pabst said.

The board voted 5-1 to amend the police salary budget by $5,250, with Pabst voting nay. Trustee Mark Benton was absent.

Other business

• The board approved the Lions Club’s pursuit of bringing fireworks back to Heartland Days. The club plans to work with Greg Elliot of Spielbauer Fireworks to find a suitable site.

• Graf, representing the Lions Club, told board members the Lions will bring a site plan to the board in April concerning the 7-acre village owned parcel that is being considered for a pull track and park space.

• The board approved the purchase of a new water meter reader at the cost of $4,475.50.

• The clerk’s office will close at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13.

• Operator’s licenses were approved for Ruth Shaffer (Holiday SSG) and Cheyenne Carlson (BP).

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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