Despite Kodiak’s sleek, modern and high-tech police headquarters, the city’s Police Department is one of the worst-paid police forces in the state, impacting hiring and retention, according to city officials.
Retention, recruiting and burnout are issues that city departments have been facing for many years. To resolve these issues, department heads have requested increases in wages and staff for fiscal 2021. In April the city council will vote on the finalized department budgets.
The starting salary for a police officer in Kodiak is $22.10 per hour, while the state average is between $28 and $34 per hour, said Kodiak Police Chief Tim Putney.
In the Kenai and Anchorage police departments, starting salaries hover around $34 per hour, while entry-level officers in Kotzebue earn $22.32 per hour.
“We have lost a few officers to different agencies around the state,” Putney said, adding that the police force has only had a full staff for a couple of short periods during his 17 years as a police officer.
According to a memorandum from the city manager, the police department requested an addition of $90,949 to the payroll to increase police officer salaries by 10%. The department also requested to hire a part-time administrative assistant.
The increase would impact not only patrol officers but also specialty officers such as school resources, investigations and drug enforcement officers who have a starting salary of $23.21 per hour. The police chief would receive an increase of $9,859 a year, and the deputy chief would also receive an increase of $8,148 per year.
According to the chief, the starting salary for a lieutenant is $32 per hour, and for a police chief, around $43 per hour.
Each time an officer is promoted, they either receive the starting salary for the position or a 5% increase, Putney said.
The department also requested to reallocate some police positions. The proposed plan would remove the second-lieutenant position in the administration department and the canine officer, while adding a full-time patrol officer and a full-time corrections officer.
According to the memo, the full-time patrol officer salary would amount to $50,796 with benefits at $73,125. The correction’s officer salary would be $41,487 with benefits at $69,014.
With the suggested salary increases and job restructuring, the net increases for the Police Department amounts to $90,949.48.
Council Member Rich Walker supported the increases in the Police Department.
“For the wages these people are making, they can hardly afford to live in this town,” he said. “They have good benefits, but benefits don't pay the rent.”
According to City Manager Mike Tvenge, following wage increase of 10% in the Fire Department a few years ago, more applicants applied to the open positions.
“We were full for the first time in five years. One just left and went back to Florida for his family,” said Mike Tvenge. “It did make a difference.”
For fiscal 2021, the Fire Department requested four additional firefighters for a net increase of $484,227.76.
Tvenge said the fire department is spread thin, and burnout is a concern.
“We had all three ambulances out at one point this winter going in all directions,” Tvenge said, adding that when all the ambulances are out, off-duty firefighters have to go into work.
The Parks and Recreation Department requested to change their part-time maintenance technician position to a full-time position because of an increase in duties, including downtown trash pickup, cleanup and maintenance; library snow removal and facility usage.
With the proposed change, the increase of wages and benefits would amount to $67,740 per year.
Another staffing increase request came from the Public Works Sewer Department. According to the memo, the Wastewater Treatment Plant has experienced increased state and federal testing, operational regulations and reporting regulations. Therefore, the Public Works director would like to add an additional operator with a salary of $46,097 per year. The total wage increase including benefits would amount to $117,166 per year.
The total increases in each department will be written into the fiscal 2021 budget structure and should not impact taxes, said Council Member John Whiddon.
“The last two years, we’ve had a slight surplus in the General Fund because of deferring some maintenance and efficiencies that staff has implemented,” Whiddon said. “We believe we can make up that difference with surplus in the General Fund.”
The original story misstated the starting salary a police chief in Kodiak. The hourly rate is $43 per hour.