Harrisburg Mayor proposed police pay increases to boost recruitment and retention

Hoping to end the trend of young police officers fleeing the city for higher paying suburban jobs, Harrisburg administrators have drafted a new pay scale, which includes significant increases for longtime employees.

“The contract essentially gives the police a lot more money in staff salaries and wages,” Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said.

The contract Papenfuse is referring to is a recent deal approved by members of the local police union, which includes pay increases for patrol officers and senior officers. It has not yet been approved by city council.

“It’s a big, big boost to the salaries of the patrollers,” Papenfuse said.

This is true because the existing salary scale for patrol officers is set at its maximum after an officer has been employed for four years. At this point, a patroller earns $ 64,491.

“And that’s it. You’re done,” Papenfuse said, explaining that without a promotion to a higher rank, that rate of pay would not increase, even for patrollers who have been employed for 20 years or more.

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The problem, Papenfuse said, is that the rate of $ 64,491 is not competitive with those paid to agents in surrounding municipalities.

That’s at least true in Susquehanna Township, where officers already make $ 70,958 after two years on the job and $ 80,846 after three, said Rob Martin, Susquehanna’s director of public safety.

Because surrounding municipalities pay more, Harrisburg police officers often leave town after just a few years on the job, Papenfuse said.

“We lose them up front very early on,” Papenfuse said.

When fully staffed, Harrisburg can support a total of 153 police officers, but Papenfuse said this week that since becoming mayor, the number of officers on staff has averaged around 130.

Having a full complement is important for an effective police force, he said, adding that it is equally essential to retain experienced officers with institutional knowledge.

Fortunately, additional income – from levies such as the city’s labor income tax, the local services tax, and the trade privilege tax – can provide a way to improve both recruiting and police detention, Papenfuse said.

“We have increased significantly by several million dollars,” he said. “Basically everything is indicative of the growth of businesses and the growth in business and income in terms of people working in the city. “

This increase in revenue prompted the mayor to propose additional spending of $ 1 million for the police department, the bulk of which will go to salaries. These are wages included in the contract that was approved by the local police union.

The new patroller pay scale has field training officers starting at $ 53,000, with an increase to $ 54,000 after two years of service. After five years, that number drops to $ 66,000. After 20 years, that number reaches $ 75,000. And the mayor pointed out that the salary scale capped at nearly $ 80,000.

These figures only apply to patrollers. If they are promoted to a higher rank, they can earn even more, Papenfuse said, explaining that the new contract also includes salary increases for these higher-ranking officers.

Papenfuse admitted that the new pay scale, while better, may still fall short of parity with surrounding municipalities.

As proposed, the deal would come into effect in 2020 and run until 2025, the mayor said.

“We did it a whole year in advance,” Papenfuse said. “This will replace what was planned for 2020 and run for five years until 2025.

The new contract also extends a benefit to long-serving officers eligible for retirement. Years ago, when the city was in financial difficulty, long-serving officers – who received higher salaries – were encouraged to retire as a measure of savings, Papenfuse said.

This plan came with an incentive: if the officers retired, they would get a 10% increase in their pensions. This incentive was due to expire in 2020, Papenfuse said. This expiration could have dire consequences, with around 30 officers eligible for retirement probably not wanting to lose the 10 percent bump, he said.

To encourage them to stay in the force – and not all retire at the same time – an extension of the pension increase was proposed in the new union agreement, the mayor said.

“Hopefully that will be enough of an incentive to stay so that we can close the gap and reach full membership by 2021,” he said.

On Tuesday, Constable Jason Brinker, president of the local police union, confirmed that the deal had been approved by its members.

“I think it’s a fair deal,” Brinker said.

In the 2020 budget, Papenfuse also proposed the creation of four new town fire stations, increasing the full complement of firefighters from 82 to 86 plus command staff.

All these changes are subject to the approval by the members of the city council of the draft 2020 budget, as well as the contract of the police union.

The mayor presented the plan publicly for the first time at a city council meeting on Tuesday evening. Council members did not speak about the plan on Tuesday evening. This discussion will likely take place during the next budget hearings.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for December 10 and 12, with a vote on the final budget slated for December 17.

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