Financial advisors will help the City of Bedford with public safety salary study

BEDFORD – The City of Bedford has hired BakerTilly to assess the salary information for all city departments. Their primary focus will include public safety.

Mayor Craig thought it was important to hire someone to do the study versus doing an in-house study on salary and benefits. There are several ways to do this type of study.

Bedford Police and Bedford Fire Departments work together at 5th and Lincoln on Sunday

During the city council meeting Monday night Dan Hedden, CPA, and partner with BakerTilly gave a brief overview of the police and fire departments and how they ranked among similar cities based on tax spending and salaries throughout Indiana. BakerTilly used the Indiana Gateway as a primary source for this study and Economic Research Institute.

Areas of salary study included:

  • Analyzed revenue data since 2011 and for the most reporting year
  • Eliminated communities that did not have a fire department
  • Eliminated communities that pooled benefit payments into council or board of works
  • Analyzed peer community date for longevity, health, and vacation sick time.

Mayor Craig chose to concentrate on public safety and elected officials at this time, due to the cost of a traditional, in-depth salary study.

After determining the factors used in comparing those cities, Frankfort, Huntington, and Lebanon were determined to be the cities closest in comparison to Bedford. Bedford’s salary was not the highest among these cities but was competitive in other factors.

At the end of 2020, Mayor Craig advised the council that he was conducting an in-house salary study. Research of wages and benefits has been a priority topic of the council since then.

While there were many factors that impacted the decision of those that exited their positions, the salary for tenured employees was questioned by Bortner.

Experienced turnover totals by the department from January 1, 2017 – July 14, 2021 include

  • Utilities – 5 retirements, 2 transferred within the city, 2 similar employment, 5 left for career change, 1 resignation for reason unknown (15 total)
  • Parks Department – 3 left for a career change, 1 was asked to vacate the position, 1 resigned due to medical reasons. (5 total)
  • Street Department – 2 retired, 1 left for a career change, 1 left due to medical reasons. (4 total)
  • Administration – 3 retired, 2 resigned. (4 total)
  • Bedford Police Department Dispatch – 2 retired, 2 transferred within the city, 2 left due to job stress, 2 resigned for reason unknown, 1 left for a career change. (9 total)
  • Bedford Police Department – 6 retirements, 8 resignations, 2 retired but transferred within the city, 3 left for career change (19 Total)
  • Fire Department – 8 retirements, 3 left for similar employment with one returning, 3 left for career change ( 14 total)

According to Mayor Craig, the two departments with the largest turnovers at this time are the police department and the utility department.

Salary competition can also be a factor for turnover. Larger counties, like Monroe County, have a much larger tax base which provides more funding to compensate employees with a higher rate of pay and better benefits. Other factors to consider are the duties and qualifications of the position.

Recently the Bedford Fire Department has experienced some turnover with the departure of three firefighters, one has since returned. The Bedford Board of Works changed a policy back in February that is now requiring its personnel to compensate the city if a firefighter leaves within three years of their hire date.

Earlier this year, Bedford Fire Chief Hughes asked the board for a policy change that would require a new hire to reimburse the department for any equipment that is purchased for that new hire if they leave before their first year of employment is complete.

“At this time, I have $2,800 worth of turnout gear sitting in the fire station, due to a firefighter leaving within his first year of employment,” said Chief Hughes. “We spend a lot of money on training and equipment for these firefighters,” Hughes added.

“This policy is also is used in the police department, due to high turnover and we have never had this issue until now in the fire department,” added Bedford Mayor Sam Craig during the February Board of Works meeting.

“There is no growth for a senior law enforcement officer or firefighter,” said Dan Bortner. “We will lose them to other departments, we are training them for other departments.”

The chief of police and fire chief earns a salary of $57,168.80. Police officers and firefighters have a starting salary of $44,288.28 and will max out at approximately $49,494.28 should they not receive a promotion. This is one of the reasons Mayor Craig chose to begin this salary study when he entered office.

Police departments across the state have offered take-home police cars as an incentive to low salaries, and departments across the state have given already trained police officers to preference over other applicants to obtain qualified police officers. Other incentives of recruitment are also allowed reciprocity from transferring from police to fire departments or vice versa to attract better applicants.

The longevity process for Bedford and other cities is different across the peer group used for the study. Longevity adjustments on a yearly basis, where others in the peer group make the adjustments in stages.

Health insurance for employees only and families cost for health insurance of police and firefighters is larger than the other in the peer group.

Dental and vision were about the same across the board for employees compared to the peer group.

Paid Time off of Bedford’s public safety was the only community that had unlimited paid time off.

“This study reflects what we have already known for a while. If you look at the starting pay for a third-class firefighter or third-class police officer we are right in line with the comparison cities. Where we lose is the wage progression, the difference we have between in the chief’s and everybody in-between years three and five leave, because they do not see any upward mobility. We are paying enough to attract them, but you are not going to keep them if there is no place for them to go,” said Dan Bortner following the presentation.

“We put 18 months in training into them and we are training them for somebody else,” Bortner concluded.

Mayor Sam Craig stated that this is only a starting point and other areas of study will include department heads who manage smaller departments but make the same rate of pay as other department heads. In addition, instead of across-the-board raises, the city council may need to consider other factors in determining who and what size of raise an employee may receive.

“I agree with the study, one of the many reasons why I had it done is to address our high turnover,” said Mayor Craig.

” There is more work to be done and look at these other cities. Now it’s time for us to do some leg work. Our city employees participate in City of Bedford Health and Wellness screening this does not reflect on our insurance, if they sign up for the screening, they can save $52.50 a pay for taking part in the program,” said Mayor Craig

According to Mayor Craig on a $3,500 deductible, employee-only plan, it will cost them $13.72 a pay.

Several department heads along with union leaders of both the police and fire department attended the meeting Monday evening.