Concerns raised about marshal’s proposed pay hikes for officers

By Don Nelson

The Winthrop Town Council, concerned about short- and long-term budgetary consequences, wants more time to think about a proposal by Marshal Hal Henning to increase police officer salaries.

At its meeting last week, council members discussed the details of Henning’s proposal. While supportive of the concept, they expressed some reservations about the increases the marshal is asking for.

Council member Rick Northcott said he supports raises for the town’s police officers, but said the town needs to “dial back” Henning’s proposed salary figures to be more in line with neighboring towns.

“I don’t think it’s that far off,” Northcott said. “I want to make sure that if we are doing a long-term plan, we should start here.”

At an earlier meeting, Henning — who was recently hired as marshal — told the council that if Winthrop wants to attract and keep competent police officers, it will need to pay them considerably more than the town does now. He said the current pay scale is not competitive with other jurisdictions in the region and will make it especially difficult to recruit experienced officers who would stay in the community.

Henning is looking for an officer to fill out the town’s two-person force. The town also has a full-time police clerk to handle administrative needs.

Henning’s plan includes an incentives program that would pay more to officers who have or attain a secondary education degree and who stay with the town for several years.

Henning’s proposal would start officers at $4,800 a month ($57,600 annually), advancing to $5,500 a month ($66,000 a year) after three years. Pay would be 2 percent higher for officers with associate degrees and 4 percent higher for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Pay for lateral hires would be based on experience. Longevity pay incentives of 2 to 5 percent over base pay would start after five years of service.

The deputy’s position is currently being advertised at $4,000 a month. Henning’s current pay is $4,600 per month.

At last week’s meeting, Henning said his proposals and other budget adjustments would result in an increase of about $38,000 in the 2017 marshal’s office budget compared to 2016. But he said that about $30,000 in surplus funds could be carried over to next year’s budget from this year because the town did not have any officers on its payroll in 2016 until he was hired.

The 2017 budget will include increased costs for dispatching services, legal fees and benefits. Henning also suggested creation of a vehicle purchase fund that would accumulate enough money to buy a new police vehicle in five years.

Council questions

Council member Mike Strulic said “I’m behind you” on increased salaries, but added that Henning’s proposal represents “a relatively high pay scale relative to other departments … I don’t want to go to the top of the scale because we won’t have room to move higher.”

“Let’s work on a number we’re more comfortable with,” Strulic said.

Council member Anne Acheson said she’s concerned about budget impact beyond next year, when there will likely not be a surplus to carry over. “There needs to be a multi-year solution,” she said. Other council members echoed that concern.

Henning said that Okanogan County will be Winthrop’s main competition for hires, and the county is increasing its pay scale in 2017. He pointed to other towns in the region that have a difficult time attracting officer candidates because their pay scales are, in some cases, even lower than Winthrop’s.

He also pointed out that while Winthrop’s residential population is about 400, the town’s occupancy swells to several thousand a day during the height of tourism season — and even more during special events.

Starting pay for an Okanogan County sheriff’s deputy will be $4,383 a month in 2017 and top out at $5,400 a month after five years, according to materials provided by Henning. The range is now $4,130 to $5,198 a month.

According to figures presented by Henning, Twisp’s salary range for an officer is $3,120 to $4,853 a month; Tonasket’s is $2,504 to $3,359 a month; Brewster’s is $4,061 to $4,519 a month; Oroville’s is $3,033 to $3,886 a month; and Omak’s is $4,250 to $5,063 a month. Wenatchee’s is $4,792 to $6,223. The information came from www.awcnet.org.

The marshal said his goal is to attract the best candidates available. “We want our message to be ‘we picked who we wanted,’ and not ‘we took what we could get.’”

“We’re trying to close the gap to lure people,” Henning added.

Northcott said that starting salaries are more important to him that trying to match the top end of the county’s scale.

Acheson volunteered to meet with Henning and Town Clerk Michelle Gaines to come up with a proposal that might be more to the council’s liking.