Helper city council approved a pay raise last week for all regular full time employees in the city's police department.
Councilmember Bob Farrell added the item to the council's April 19 agenda after a decision two weeks earlier to increase the wage of one of the city's public works employees.
"I felt a little ashamed that we have someone who's been here for seven months that was on top of our officers," said Farrell. He explained the increase approved earlier in April had increased the public works employee's wage to the point of being higher than some individuals on the police force.
The councilmember said he wanted to see an increase for police officers before the city enters a new budget cycle in July.
"I think [the officers] are no less deserving than the other person that two weeks ago got a $1 per hour raise," he said before making a motion to increase wages for the entire department.
Helper's police department is comprised of four regular officers, a sergeant and a chief. Councilmember Dean Armstrong noted that there is only a few cents difference between the wage of the officers and the wage for the sergeant.
"I see you have a very flat pay scale here," he said. Armstrong said regardless of whether Farrell's motion to increase the police department's wages passed, he would like to revisit the matter at a later date to provide more incentive to higher ranking or more qualified officers.
A raise in the police department is not as simple as a pay raise for a few individuals. Officers routinely accrue overtime, which equates to higher payroll costs for the city.
Further, when an officer takes sick time or vacation pay, the department calls on reserve officers to fill shifts. Reserve officers are trained police officers who only work for the city when necessary and are paid a lower wage. So when an officer takes paid time off, the city is paying both the officer on leave and the replacement reserve officer.
Other concerns about Farrell's motion to raise police wages centered around the budget.
Mayor Mike Dalpiaz pointed out the police department is already over-budget, as are a number of other departments in the city.
"Everybody is deserving. They deserve a hell of a lot more than $1 an hour or $5 an hour. So does the streets [department]. So does the museum," said the mayor. "But we've got to find the money before we go sprinkling money out."
Armstrong estimated that the cost of covering the pay increase in the current budget year, which ends on June 30, could be covered by a surplus collected by the city in fines and citations.
He said when the city collects more than what in anticipated for fines, the police department should be the first to benefit from the surplus.
Farrell's motion passed with a 3-1 vote. Councilmember Kirk Mascaro opposed the wage increase and Councilmember Chuck Buchanan was absent.