~by Janice Harbaugh for GreeneCountyNewsOnline
The Jefferson city council experienced democracy in action at the regular meeting on Feb 25. Residents were outspoken and, at times, loudly expressive in support of a wage increase for officers in the Jefferson police department. One resident in the audience angrily said, “You raise my taxes for things I don’t want. Raise them for something I do want!”
Discussion of police wages was an item on the council’s agenda for the evening.
Information comparing the Mount Vernon police department with the Jefferson police department had been put together into a 14-page hand-out with graphs and tables and distributed on behalf of the council. Mount Vernon had been chosen for comparison because of similarity in demographics with Jefferson.
Information about the Greene County sheriff’s office was also included for comparison.
From the report, the Jefferson police department has 67 percent more calls for service than Mount Vernon, has six fewer employees, and pays $10,000 less per officer in salary.
In comparison to the Greene County sheriff’s office, the JPD receives 36 percent more service calls and has three fewer employees.
Wages paid to officers in Greene County were described by mayor Matt Gordon as being in the “lowest part of the bell curve of wages paid in police departments in Iowa.”
Gordon summarized the effect of low wages as being “180 percent turnover in officers.” He cited the attractiveness of moving into the sheriff’s office as being one reason for turnover.
The attraction includes better wages and opportunity for upward mobility in rank.
Council members echoed the need for retention of officers and acknowledged the need for increase in wages.
Residents spoke directly and strongly in support of the current officers in the police department. Several residents spoke of services provided 24 hours a day, in any weather, and of the officers putting their lives on the line.
Thomas Laehn, county attorney, stood up to commend the police department “for first-rate police work” and the room erupted into applause.
Laehn spoke about the success of prosecution being dependent on the evidence gathered by the officers and testimony in court. He also spoke about difficulties and expense in having subpoenas issued for the testimony of officers who had moved on to other jobs between arrest of a suspect and the court appearances. He quoted a law professor as asking, “How much justice are you willing to pay for?”
The council discussed the logistics of a $10,000 raise for the police officers. Council member Harry Ahrenholtz doubted “an arbitrary increase” could be done because of union contracts. He suggested bringing in “a disinterested third party to compare wages and dollars to training,” with other city employees’ wages included in the analysis.
Gordon supported the idea of hiring a consultant to gather information.
Several members of the audience objected strongly to this. “Consulting fees upset me,” said one resident. “It irritates the public. We want money spent in our community.”
The cost of a study done by a consultant was estimated to be at least $20,000. Other residents in the audience stated the information was already clear and available without consultants.
Chief of police Mark Clouse said, “We’re never going to find another Jefferson (to compare statistics.) There’s no better comparison than the Greene County sheriff’s office.”
Council member Darren Jackson said, “Retention (of officers) makes better protection (for the public.)” Chief Clouse advocated “bringing us closer to the state average (for wages) in order to retain officers.”
Gordon continued to press for the hiring of a consultant, saying, “They need the information.” When asked by GreeneCountyNewsOnline who he was referring to, Gordon said, “the council.”
Jackson was not in favor of hiring consultants. “There’s no point in paying for information we already have. The numbers don’t lie.”
Council member Dave Sloan’s concern was where the money will come from to pay an increase in wages.
Resident Sean Sebourn spoke about saving money from the proposed budget discussed at a previous council meeting. He cited $10,300 allocated for removing a cover on the municipal pool in the spring and re-covering the pool in the fall as being an excessive and possibly unnecessary expense.
City clerk Diane Kennedy explained the money for increases in wages for officers would have to come from the general fund reserve funds and not from taxes. The council decided they needed more information about funding an increase in wages before a decision could be made.
Discussion will continue at the next meeting on March 10.
In other business, the council approved Micah Destival as golf course manager for a 10-month contract at $3,300 per month. According to Ahrenholtz, Destival has “done a good job” but “there are revenue issues.”
Council member Sloan noted, “Some people want the golf course gone.” Other councilmembers suggested promoting increased use of the clubhouse to bring in money.
Representatives from Jefferson Matters: Main Street presented their quarterly report listing many activities and awards received. Their goals for 2020 include creating upper story housing visibility; recruiting businesses to downtown; involving youth and the schools in Main Street program; attracting people to the Main Street District; and exploring community development partnerships.
The council set a hearing for March 24 on a new amendment to the city’s urban renewal plan. The amendment would add Block 33 into the urban renewal area which would allow building owners in that area access to the city façade program in order to improve their buildings. Block 33 is the block east of Greene County Middle School. It includes Jefferson Telecom, the Elks lodge, and the future companion animal veterinary clinic. Tax increment financing (TIF) could also be available.