Finance Director Paul Navazio suggested that part of the more than three million dollar budget deficit will be closed through contract negotiations. Mr. Navazio is proposing somewhere around 860,000 dollars or so of the budget will be closed through contract negotiations. The question then comes to where should that come from and how should the city proceed with negotiations.
The Vanguard has done considerable research into this discrepancy and the numbers are really misleading in two specific ways.
As one can see from this graphic, a raw comparison would seem to suggest a slight but not overwhelming advantage in the actual average salary for firefighters in the city of Davis versus police officers.
But there are two problems with this analysis, one of which was discussed during the meeting, the other was not.
The first problem which was not discussed is that in 2008, there were just eight employees in the Firefighter I category and 28 in the Firefighter II category. On the other hand there were 47 in the police officer category and 10 in the police sergeant category.
Thus an analysis that simply makes a one-to-one comparison, even if applicable, would distort the numbers and thus the salaries.
But as we learned, Firefighter II is not the equivalent to a police sergeant. In fact, a police sergeant is most comparable to a fire captain.
Councilmember Lamar Heystek asked Bill Emlen what the comparable front line supervisory positions were for police and fire.
City Manager Bill Emlen responded:
“It’s difficult to compare because it’s not apples to apples since they have different functions.”
He then offered:
“I would have to put some equivalency between a captain and a sergeant and lieutenant.”
Lamar offers sergeant and a fire captain as a more applicable comparison which Police Chief Landy Black agrees with.
“Yes the police sergeant is the first line of supervision in the police department. It would be difficult to compare the actual job duties, with the first line of supervision in the fire department, but it is our first line of supervision.”
During the course of question it was determined that at the top step there was roughly a $20,000 discrepancy between police sergeant and fire captain.
“Just under $20,000 between police sergeant the top step and fire captain. Why is that?”
Bill Emlen responded:
“There’s a lot of variables at play. I think as you know over the number of years that these various salaries have been set through salary analyses as well as through the negotiation process. Doing market analysis and things of that nature it has resulted in the current salaries that we have. Particularly in the last few years, when we’ve compared to other cities, it has certainly driven up the salaries of some positions over others.”
But it is worse than that. It turns out a police sergeant actually makes around $5000 less than firefighter two (and its actually worse in practice as you see from the graphic above).
Councilmember Heystek asks Fire Business Manager Kathy Willhoff whether the Firefighter II position carries with it, supervisorial duties.
“A Firefighter II has no supervisory responsibilities unless they’re acting as an acting captain.”
“A FF2 makes about $92K, so that would be about $5000 more than a police sergeant with supervisory responsibilities, is that correct?”
“Correct, based on what we’ve heard here this evening.”
Responding to the question of why, Mr. Emlen opines:
“Once again there’s a lot of factors in play, it’s certainly something to look at. I understand your concern.”
Here is a more accurate reflection of the comparable positions.
This graphic gives the fuller picture. The other point worth noting is that the upper level positions–fire division chief versus police captain and the two chiefs have identical salaries. The difference in salaries only lies with the positions that are union positions which go up through fire captain on the fire side and to sergeant on the police side.
Councilmember Heystek then looks at one consequence of the discrepancy, the ability to recruit quality candidates. He begins by asking about the ability to get qualified candidates for police as opposed to fire.
“That has turned a corner a little bit, but in general it has been a challenge to get qualified candidates for police positions.”
“The last couple of recruitments had less than a dozen applicants.”
This was for two to three open positions. And the Chief would later mention that often only three of those applicants would actually be fully qualified.
On the other hand, Kathy Willhof from fire suggested 78 applicants for the last position and often that number has been considerably higher.
Navazio is asked by Lamar how we account for the discrepancy:
“I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to account for it. Historically, my understanding, is we generally tend to get more applicants for fire positions than we do PD. I agree with something the Chief [Landy Black] said earlier that they’re fundamentally different roles and different positions that attract different folks. And dovetailing on something that Bill [Emlen] said earlier at least the way we’ve looked at compensation issues that I’m aware of has really been looking at our fire compensation structure relative to other agencies that are recruiting and hiring firefighters and likewise we tend not to look at internal equity or have not between those two.
There was a period of time as Bill said earlier that we had to do some incentives for PD recruitment because of combination of fewer folks choosing law enforcement and coming through the academies and the typical channels to fill those positions.”
But as Councilmember Heystek would point out, the issue of internal equity is one that we have to examine. He began raising the key question as to why the structure is the way it is.
Neither the City Manager nor Finance Director would say it outright, but the reason for the discrepancy is straightforward–there is disproportionate power by the firefighters union as opposed to the police union and that is reflected in the growing discrepancy in the two compensation packages. Moreover, one reason for the differential in ability to recruit has to be compensation.
Should there be a difference in the compensation between the two public safety departments? How wide should that be? And is it in the right direction?
These issues need to be discussed and addressed more fully in the future.
It was announced that on June 16, 2009, there would be a presentation on the fire staffing findings from Citygate. Hopefully that will continue to shed light on this issue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting