Courtesy of the city of Gardner

Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner sworn officers and city staff will be receiving a two percent increase cost of living compensation bonus and benefit package.
Todd Winters, mayor, approved the updated salary structure and compensation plan at the March 7 city council meeting. The COLA would be in addition to Gardner’s annual merit pay increase which was budgeted at $286,500.
The starting salary for a police officer is currently $21.646 per hour; Gardner has 32 sworn officers currently on staff (includes all ranks) and six vacant sworn officer positions.
Matt Wolff, finance director, said the plan is to help ease the burden of the current seven percent inflation. “Everything is going up,” he said.
Wolff said it would also help make the city more competitive and hiring and retaining sworn officers was a national issue not just a local issue.
The city is losing officers to other municipalities with higher compensations before they have completed five years of service, he said.
Wolff said they determined an additional $1.85 increase per hour was necessary to bring sworn officer pay up to the average pay and salary ranges would also be modified so the minimum range is increased to be more consistent and offering a higher maximum earning potential.
Promotional ladders will also be expanded with four levels for police officers, three levels for detectives and corporals and two levels for sergeants, he said. There will also be a signing bonus for new hires with $3,000 for transfers and $2,000 for new recruits.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said she really liked the plan. “I want to thank everyone who worked on this,” she said.
Deaton said she wanted to know if it was possible for the city to adjust the COLA to three percent from the two percent plan for city staff. “Is it possible,” she said. “Can we afford it.”
Winters said he wanted to know where the two percent figures had been calculated from and what the rational for two percent had come from.
Jim Pruetting, city administrator, said they had tried to stay at $250 to $300, so they could try to get a place where they were competing dollar to dollar with other jurisdictions but still being reasonable. “We are trying to thread a needle on financial impact,” he said.
Erik Van Potter, council member, said what was the data for what the retention numbers could be and recruitment numbers.
Pruetting said the city was in the lower half.
“Other agencies are over the top, and we can’t compete,” he said. “This is a good place to start to work towards the same goal.”
James Belcher, police chief, said they didn’t currently have the projections for recruitment.
“We are working through our fourth hiring process since last Spring and hired nobody,” he said. “We are trying to attract the best people we can.”
Pruetting said the problems were t unique to just Gardner.
Van Potter said they had to have the compensation already there so they weren’t shortcutting the staff the city already employed.
Mark Baldwin, council president, said he wanted to know if there was a sunset on sign on bonusses if officers and jump ship immediately.
Pruetting said maybe they would pay half up front and then half later after they had finished the FTO program.
Belcher said once officers graduate from the Academy it protects the city, and they could require reimbursement for certain things.
Steve Shute, council, said the city had been having conversations for a long time on how to make salaries more competitive.
“It helps us keep some smart officers and help those get out of KCMO and KCK that want to,” he said.
Shute said public safety was the cornerstone of Gardner.
Belcher said he wanted to thank the governing body in support of the salary increases, especially Wolff and Amy Nasta, deputy city administrator.
“They were wonderful to work with,” he said. “There was lots of work they did, and I want to acknowledge it as I appreciate them.”
Wolff said he could get back to the city on the possibility of raising it to three percent but needed time to calculate numbers.
“Two percent was reasonable while we catches up,” he said. “We didn’t want to burden the budget too much.”
Deaton said she wanted to know if public safety received other bonusses or if it was a one time COLA and the incentive to stay.
“I know it makes a small difference, and we would be matching inflation,” she said.
Baldwin said they could discuss the three percent when the city discusses the budget next month.
“This will take care of right now and the open positions that need filled right now,” he said. “We can look at the impact on how it is necessary.”
Shute said he thought it was a good idea to be proactive and not lose people because they were unable to keep up with the rest of the county.
“It’s not a huge step up,” he said. “We could probably find a way to absorb the $70k.”
Wolff said the money was in the general fund, and the general fund was looking very healthy with a strong balance.
“It’s more about priorities,” he said.
Shute said it was good to keep good people.
Van Potter said what was the cost of training new people versus retaining people because he felt most of the costs were absorbed in the first six months of hiring someone.
“I want to see the numbers,” he said.
Tory Roberts, council member, said they didn’t have those numbers currently thought out in front of them.
Deaton said it wasn’t much of a citywide impact to the budget, but it greatly effected someone’s paycheck.
Winters said it could be revisited.

In other business:
Council members passed a hefty consent agenda after pulling three items for discussion.
The first was a contract with HPI Energy for Phase 2 of the Gas Turbine Control Systems Upgrade.
Deaton said she knew they had discussed the item a month ago but wanted to know how the costs had gone from $450,000 to $1.2 million so quickly.
“”Where is the disconnect in budgeting,” she said.
Gonz Garcia, utilities director said the $450,000 proposal was from 2014, and they had been informed last year by the director it would be closer to one million.
Winters said would the improvements make it more efficient to run the generators.
Garcia said the controls can’t improve the efficiency but will make it more reliable.
—The second item was a contract with Riverside Strategic Solutions for consulting services for $90,000.
Tory Roberts, council member, dissented.
Roberts said it wasn’t in the budget and wanted to know how they were paying for it and if it was something Nasta could help with.
Pruetting said the funds come from the general fund and because it comes out of Washington DC Nasta would be unable to help.
Roberts said she was still concerned about the budget.
Pruetting said they could lobby and work with the state.
“We are looking at leveraging consultant relationships in DC,” he said. “We are not capable of doing it ourselves.”
Last year Congressional leaders announced the return of earmarks after a decade long moratorium.
Pruetting said the city currently has two major projects that qualify for federal fund assistance. The two projects are the city’s wastewater infrastructure capacity and the Gardner Interchange Bridge Project.
The third item was Amendment 2 with Affinis Corporation for additional design services for the Waverly and 175th Street to Madison project for $41,870.
Winters said what was the timing for the project as the trail is important to people in the St. John’s area.
Kellen Headlee, public works director, said it would be early May.
A new trail will be constructed along 175th Street from Kill Creek Road to Waverly Road along with a redesign of the intersection at Waverly and US-56 per KDOT as part of the Amendment.