The Sandy City Council on Tuesday voted not to increase compensation for public employees, a change of plans from the city’s original fiscal year 2020-2021 budget — which included a 2% pay raise for all non-sworn city personnel like accountants, analysts, and technicians, and a step-in-grade wage increase for police officers and firefighters.
“As much as we value the work of city employees, now is not the time to increase public employee compensation,” Council Member Marci Houseman said in a news release. “Unemployment is at record levels and many local businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.”
Wage adjustments the city administration originally planned would have led to increase expenditures of more than $900,000 in employee compensation.
Not only is Sandy City holding off on pay raises, the council also eliminated about $1.4 million in fleet vehicle purchases for the upcoming year that were recommended by Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn.
“Given the high degree of economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must insist on an abundance of caution when deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money,” Council Chair Kris Nicholl said in the meeting. “This is one instance where we hope to be proven wrong in our assumptions so that we can revisit these investments at a later date as revenue permits."
The City Council was not unanimous in its decision. Council Members Brooke Christensen, Zach Robinson, and Monica Zoltanski voted against freezing pay raises and eliminating the fleet vehicle purchases.
Robinson said he voted against the proposal because he doesn’t agree with the policy. “I feel like the employees are the ones who are getting our city through this and the increase that was proposed was very modest, it wasn’t over the top,” he told The Tribune.
“I understand fully where the community is, I get it, my own family’s been impacted by the financial component of COVID-19," Robinson added. "But I still feel like I was in a position where I can support our employees in the city and fund their compensation package.”
Robinson said the proposal does not have a timeline for when the council will reconsider pay increases. “Another issue that I did have with the policy that was proposed was that it lacks an endgame," he said. "We did not build in any sort of trigger point ... to reevaluate, we left it open-ended and I had a big concern with that.”
Ian Adams, executive director for Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said Sandy officers and their families “feel very betrayed” because there was a large tax increase about a year ago that was specifically intended to hire more officers and “slowly raise pay for officers and their families.”
“That tax increase was fairly controversial and … now here we are a year later and several members of the council who supported that tax increase are now not using it in the intended [way]," Adams said in an interview.
He said public safety employees in Sandy City are frustrated because “they’ve been asked for 5 or 6 months now to be the front line of the city’s response on any number of crises and they’ve done so and they’ve been working 20 hour days to do it.”
Adams said officers have sacrificed their own health and safety to protect the council and the community they represent. “And now the first chance they get, that same council is turning around and using public safety wages which are not high … as a basis to balance their budget.”