The Fairbanks City Council on Monday approved bonuses to help recruit and retain police officers and dispatchers.
Council members Valerie Therrien and Jonathan Bagwill cosponsored the resolution, which offers bonuses ranging from$1,300 to $3,300, based on years of service.
Bagwill says the bonuses are needed because the department is short by seven officers and is having a hard time filling the openings. He says interest in officer jobs has dwindled from hundreds of candidates to just a few.
“Sometimes we have three,” he said, “sometimes we have six. It’s not the same as it used to be.”
Councilman Jerry Cleworth opposed the measure, saying the city can’t afford it in light of other needs, including deferred maintenance.
“We have a tough year coming up,” he said, “and we’re going to spend a hundred-and-some-thousand dollars here that should be going to that bottom line for next year.”
Therrien and Bagwill emphasized that bonuses would be paid with salary savings from employees who’ve left the city. She said the police salary savings of nearly $435,000 would easily cover the $102,000 needed for officer bonuses, and $215,000 in dispatcher salary savings would pay for nearly $28,000 for their bonuses.
“So there is still money available in the police department to help fund capital projects, as necessary,” Therrien said.
That was enough to convince council member June Rogers to back the bonus proposal.
“The information that was given to us and where the dollars were coming from is what made me decide to join you in supporting this,” she said. “I’m still there.”
Cleworth countered that the city has previously used salary savings to boost the general and capital funds, and that awarding bonuses to police and dispatchers undercuts morale of other city employees, and compels them to also ask for bonuses.
“Like I say, we just keep digging ourselves in further,” he said. “This is not what normally is done with excess monies that are saved because of a position vacancy.”
Mayor Jim Matherly expressed respect and appreciation for all city employees, but he says they don’t face the kind of danger and stress of police officers and dispatchers.
“Not every one of them gets shot at,” the mayor said, “and not every one of them has had someone in their ranks get killed by a citizen.”
In the end, the council approved the bonuses by a 4-to-2 vote, with Matherly, Therrien, Bagwill and Rogers voting in favor, and members Cleworth and David Pruhs against. Joy Huntington was absent.