Bloomington corporation counsel on city council’s police pay resolution: “This is in some ways the council taking over the bargaining process.”

The backdrop of a city council work session on Friday was news that another Bloomington police officer had unexpectedly left the department the day before, following on the heels of a resignation the previous week.

The focus of the work session was to consider a resolution calling for increased police pay, which the council might approve at a special meeting next Wednesday.

Weighing in at the work session against the council’s resolution was the city’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, who sees it as an intrusion into the collective bargaining process between the administration and the police union.

Guthrie said, “[The resolution] is in some ways the council taking over the bargaining process.” She added, “I’m not positive, but I believe that the $5,000 figure, or whatever else you’ve got in the resolution, would have come from the police union. So in effect, you are bargaining with the police union.”

The $5,000 figure is the amount specified in the resolution as an increase in pay for all sworn officers.

The resolution is sponsored by councilmembers Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg, and Ron Smith. [Updated on Sept. 8 at 5:32 p.m. In a joint statement released by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton and police chief Mike Diekhoff, they discouraged the idea of re-opening the collective bargaining process. However, Hamilton and Diekhoff supported the idea of increasing the recruitment and retention pool proposed in the 2022 budget from $250,000 to $500,000. The new amount would work out to roughly $5,000 per officer.  Link: Text of 2021-09-08 joint statement]

Part of the administration’s 2022 budget proposal, released in late August, is $250,000 for recruitment and retention of police officers.

In his remarks to the city council on Aug. 23, as part of his formal budget presentation to the council, mayor John Hamilton highlighted the $250,000 pool. Hamilton said, “The details of how to invest that will be worked out with the police department members and others, to identify the best ways to use that substantial new pool for recruitment and retention during 2022.”

Making the compensation for Bloomington’s sworn officers more competitive—as measured by the salary amounts that are certified to the state’s retirement system—is seen by some councilmembers as part of the solution to the department’s hiring and retention challenges.

The two recent resignations dropped the number of sworn officers from 93 to 91, out of 105 that are authorized.

As of a week ago, just 76 of the 93 sworn officers were available for service, according to remarks from police chief Mike Diekhoff at his department’s budget hearing. The number who aren’t available to respond to calls includes those who are on military leave, on light duty due to injury, and also those still in training.

Based on payroll data from the city’s online financial system, not including the two most recent departures, since 2018, the police department has seen 43 sworn officers leave, 15 of them after working less than two years for BPD. That’s consistent with the observation made by police union representatives at previous meetings that the investment that BPD makes in training officers benefits other departments in the state instead of BPD.

The resolution being considered by the council could not bind mayor John Hamilton’s administration to do anything. But it would express the council’s “support for an increase to salaries for all sworn officers of the Bloomington Police Department by $5,000.”

That would require opening the collective bargaining agreement with the police union, FOP Lodge 88, for a narrow purpose, in time to increase pay for 2022. Ordinarily, the whole collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2022, would be negotiated next year with the hope of reaching a deal by the end of 2022.

Salary is the piece of the compensation package that has been the recent focus of police union representatives and councilmembers.

Based on the amounts of base pay plus longevity pay certified by 153 Indiana police departments to the state’s retirement fund, the pay for Bloomington sworn officers ranks 68th among the state’s departments.

Increasing the base pay of Bloomington sworn officers by $5,000 in 2021 would bring it to $61,956. Adding in the $2,500 longevity pay, makes a total of $64,456, which would rank 48th in the state, just behind the department in Columbus, Indiana.

At Friday’s work session, councilmember Matt Flaherty was supportive of the kind of approach the resolution takes in the context of the city council’s budget process. He told the resolution’s sponsors, “I also generally commend your bringing this and this approach, structurally to trying to let the administration know, in more formal terms, what a majority of council may support, when it comes to budgetary issues.”

But on Friday, Flaherty was keen to get additional information from the administration about compensation for Bloomington police officers beyond salary.

He read aloud the written question he had submitted to the administration:

What additional information can the administration provide regarding inter-city comparisons of police compensation? In other words, does the city believe that a comparison of BPD compensation levels to other Indiana cities is more accurately reflected by a set of factors beyond base salary, for instance, bonuses, other benefits, etc? If so, please provide as detailed information as possible to demonstrate how Bloomington compares to other cities.

At Friday’s work session, councilmember Sue Sgambelluri indicated she was interested in seeing the required fiscal impact statement for the resolution. Such statement is required of all legislation considered by the city council.

The basic arithmetic for paying 105 sworn officers $5,000 more is $525,000. But the resolution to be considered by the council also describes “further market rate adjustments” to the salaries for the positions of deputy chief, captain, and lieutenant positions.

Not discussed as a possibility at the council’s work session was the idea of funding a pay increase in part by using the $250,000 that the administration has set aside in the proposed 2022 budget for police recruitment and retention.

At Friday’s noon work session, councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith picked up on Flaherty’s support for the idea of using resolutions to express the majority view of the council on budget matters.

Piedmont-Smith wanted to know if the current schedule for the budget would allow for additional resolutions from the council on other topics. She said, “There certainly are other issues that perhaps a majority of council members feel very strongly about in relation to the budget.”

Responding with a timeline for the budget process was council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas.

Lucas laid out the key dates. The basic budget legislation is set to be introduced on Sept. 29 with an accompanying public hearing. That means the proposed budget has to be uploaded to the state’s website by Sept. 19, because that step has to be completed at least 10 days in advance of the public hearing. Final action by the council on the budget is set for October 13.

Lucas said the council’s current schedule includes two Wednesdays—the council’s normal meeting day—between now and the Sept. 19 deadline for uploading the proposed budget to the state’s website.

That assumes that the public hearing is held on Sept. 29.

That means the  only possible dates that are already on the council’s schedule for possible consideration of council budget resolutions are Wednesday, Sept. 8 and Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Next Wednesday, Sept. 8, is the meeting when the police pay resolution will be discussed. The Wednesday after that, Sept. 15, is the day when votes on the annexation ordinances are scheduled.

Not mentioned at the council’s work session was the idea of calling a special meeting to deal with other possible budget resolutions. Special meetings can be called by the mayor, the council president or any three members of the council.

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