There were no
across-the-board raises for Town of Chesterton municipal employees this
year, and there will be none next year.
That decision was
made long ago, last summer during the Town Council’s budget talks, and was
common knowledge at the time, so the police officers, firefighters, and
other employees who jammed the town hall at the council’s meeting Monday
night weren’t there expecting a bump.
They were there
instead to warn members about the threat to public safety which comes from
letting wages stagnate.
Speaking on behalf
of employees was a police officer, Lt. Joe Christian, who began by putting
this question to President Jim Ton, R-1st: did the $800,000 shortfall to the
2017 General Fund--the result of a mistake made last year by the
Clerk-Treasurer’s Office when calculating the maximum controlled levy and
prompting the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance to slash the
2017 budget--in any way affect any citizens or projects?
“It’s a fair
question,” Ton replied. “We’ve had to go into areas we’ve never had to go
before. It’s been a challenging time since April. We’re not through it yet
but we’re close to the end.”
response to Christian’s question, though, Ton said the shortfall has caused
“nothing essential or vital to public safety” to be cut or reduced and
“nothing affecting employees’ welfare.”
But there’s no
sugarcoating the shortfall either. “We’ve had to tighten our belts
especially strongly in the General Fund,” he said. “That’s where we took the
hit. As far as the General Fund, it’s been pretty bare minimum.”
In April, when the
council announced the shortfall, members agreed on “a four-point plan to
keep payroll going and pay for insurance,” Ton added. That plan included the
use of cash reserves and income from the town’s share of cigarette and
riverboat taxes, as well as the imperative for department heads to “trim
“But the medicine
is sometimes pretty tough to take,” Ton concluded. If, in the New Year,
“there’s anything left after the shortfall has been covered, if we find we
have funds free and clear after we’ve paid our bills, we’ll try to make a
stipend to employees.”
Stagnant Wages and
For Christian, on
the other hand, stagnant wages have had a very concrete impact on public
safety: well--and expensively--trained veteran officers have been leaving
the CPD by droves seeking greener pastures. By Christian’s count 14 have
done so over the last 20 years or so, and two of them this year alone. These
have been good officers, Christian added, and many of them are now in
positions of responsibility in other departments, some of them chiefs.
And there can
hardly not be a trickle-down effect on public safety, Christian told the
council. For one thing, the CPD loses “serious, serious experience when a
veteran leaves.” For another, the CPD is left short-handed until those
veterans can be replaced, by a hiring process which tends to be lengthy. New
recruits--two were hired last spring--then need to undergo field training,
which puts two officers in a squad car for a period of months, rather than
two in two squads, and they also must attend three months at the Northwest
Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
All of which means
that the CPD is nowhere near operating at full strength, hasn’t for some
years, and won’t for sometime more, and residents of Chesterton can draw
their own conclusions about what effect a short-staffed police department
may have on public safety.
to me,” Christian said.
The answer, on
paper, is simple enough: raise CPD salaries to bring something like parity
with other departments’ and then maintain that parity going forward.
Christian pointed to two bumps for the CPD over the last not quite 25 years:
one in 1994 and another in 2004. But those raises were only “Band-Aids,” he
said, insofar as the council has allowed salaries to lag again.
“Make the salaries
competitive and keep them competitive to retain officers and recruit
experienced ones,” Christian advised members. He then put the issue to
members in the frankest possible way: “Whether public safety is important
enough to the council” to find a way to make raises possible.
“There were issues
in getting raises for a long, long time,” Ton for his part acknowledged. “If
we had the money, you’d be getting raises.”