The Anchorage Assembly approved a pay increase for a small group of public safety employees during its Tuesday meeting. City officials say the change is necessary to fix a major staffing problem that’s grown worse in recent years.
The measure raises pay for some Fire and Police Department personnel who are switching from union jobs to non-represented management positions.
It’s a change that affects, for example, police sergeants moving up to lieutenants, as well as five other employee classifications. In total, the administration estimates there are about 30 positions that will see an impact, split evenly between the two departments.
The raises range from eight to 35 percent, amounting in some cases to tens of thousands more in base-pay.
The reason for the new policy, according to supporters, is that pay for those management jobs has not kept up with the compensation rates negotiated in collective bargaining agreements for union positions, meaning lower-ranking personnel take a substantial pay cut if they advance upwards into leadership roles.
It’s a situation south Anchorage Assembly member Bill Evans compared to deferred maintenance.
“We got to the point over time where now the people that are being supervised are making more than the people doing the supervision,” Evans said during assembly comments. “Nobody would create their own business to operate like that, it’s poor management.”
And like building repairs put off too long, the personnel policy started creating new problems.
According to the Municipal Manager Mike Abbott, the impetus for bringing forward the policy change came when the police department failed to get a single internal candidate as they tried recruiting for an open lieutenant position.
There’s worry over a large number of similar vacancies coming up in the near future.
“We’re not confident we can attract internal candidates to those positions,” Abbott told the assembly.
Though the pay raises are slightly staggered, the full $840,000-a-year cost increase is expected to be handled internally by the police and fire departments, which according to Abbott will amount to no change to the city’s overall budget.
The assembly members representing Eagle River, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, opposed the measure because it grows public sector costs amid the state’s declining fiscal situation. They were joined by downtown assembly member Patrick Flynn in voting against the measure, which passed eight to three.