Police Department Struggles To Fill 3 Openings

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Payson police are experiencing first hand the problems that go along with the lack of affordable work force housing and the town's failure to pay officers fair market wages.

Consequently, the Payson Police Department is unable to attract new certified officers to expand the local force and replace those who are retiring.

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A salary survey done by Public Safety Personnel Consultants shows Payson police officers make almost $5,000 less than other law enforcement officers around state.

"We had openings for three police officers and only had one applicant," PPD chief Gordon Gartner said. "And we were offering a $2,000 signing bonus."

As dire as the situation is currently, it could turn even worse as the town grows.

"To maintain the level of services now offered, we'll need more officers in the future, and we simply can't attract them," Gartner said. "We also have six officers who are scheduled to retire that we need to replace."

Much of the problem rests with a salary schedule that is simply not competitive with other towns and agencies in Arizona. A 2007 salary survey done by Public Safety Personnel Consultants shows that the median salary of a PPD officer is $45,727 or $4,901 less than that of other agencies studied. The average salary in Prescott is $50,328, in Chino Valley $49,610 and in Marana $49,579.

To attract qualified officers, Payson also has to compete with larger cities where salaries are thousands of dollars greater than those offered by PPD.

In Chandler, the average salary is $66,883, in Scottsdale it is $57,864 and in Paradise Valley $54,871. A Payson police officer said the thought of making $30,000 more a year in the Valley had him considering resigning locally and commuting to a Scottsdale job.

Payson vice mayor Tim Fruth is sympathetic to the problem of low salaries.

"I'm all for the patrol officers making more and it's one of my goals to improve their compensation," he said. "We can correct the problem with competitive patrol officer salaries, hiring bonuses and taking care of those (officers) we already have."

Payson town council will have the opportunity to address the problem during upcoming budget sessions. The first budget study session is scheduled for the June 6 council meeting.

"We tentatively set July 13 as the day I must set the cap for the budget," Town of Payson chief financial officer Glenn Smith said.

The final budget, and any raises patrol officers could receive will be voted on at the Aug. 3 council meeting. Last year, the budget was $39,810,291 and included a 2.3 cost of living increase for all employees.

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