By Larry Barszewski

When it comes to salary considerations, Ocean Ridge commissioners decided they don’t have to treat Town Hall workers and Police Department employees exactly alike.

At an Aug. 15 budget meeting, the commission approved a $2,500 pay increase for the Police Department’s 19 employees, which will be added to their base salaries Oct. 1, while agreeing to a $2,500 one-time stipend for six Town Hall employees.

“What you’re telling the town staff is that this commission does not value them and the fact that their cost of living has gone up equally to the same cost of living as the PD,” Town Manager Lynne Ladner told commissioners.

Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy disputed that depiction.

“You are putting words in our mouth. That is not what we’re saying and we’re done talking about the police and can we move on and just talk about the staff,” Cassidy said after agreeing to award the police pay boosts.

“How are police not staff?” Ladner asked, to which Cassidy said: “That is a political view. That is not what we’re talking about.”

While the Police Department has had difficulty filling positions, Town Hall has also lost three employees during the current fiscal year, according to town records.

Mayor Geoff Pugh said the police salary increases are warranted because of the critical services police provide.

Commissioners are trying to address “how we’re doing the pay for the Police Department in order to get more employees to stay here for the Police Department and bring in police so we can have a Police Department,” Pugh told Ladner, who became town manager in April after serving as interim manager since September. “And being that you haven’t been here for a long time, it’s hard to understand how valuable this Police Department is to the town of Ocean Ridge.

“Actually, without a Police Department, we kind of lose our identity a little bit. So that is a very, very important staff, not to say that our other staff is not an important part.”

Commissioners approved raising the starting salary for police officers by $4,000, a 6.5% increase, to $66,000. They also agreed to a $5,000, 10% increase in the starting salary for police dispatchers, raising that minimum pay from $50,000 to $55,000.

Commissioner Ken Kaleel said Police Chief Scott McClure presented data showing the town’s police and dispatcher salaries were not competitive with those in surrounding communities, but the commission had no comparable data for the half-dozen other town employees under Ladner.

Two of those employees — Town Clerk Kelly Avery and Public Works Supervisor Billy Armstrong — received $7,500 raises in March at the same time commissioners gave similar $7,500 raises to all of the town’s certified police officers.

Vice Mayor Steve Coz said his proposed one-time stipend would put money directly into the pockets of the Town Hall employees. And all employees — police and others — are eligible for merit raises up to 5%.

“Yes, people are spending more on their groceries. Here’s some money to help you out as inflation comes back under control and you get a 5% [merit] raise,” Coz said. “I don’t see that that’s not valuing” town staff.

The salaries are part of the proposed town budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The commission will hold its public hearings on the budget Sept. 5 and 18.

The commission expects to hold the tax rate at the same level as the current rate — $5.50 for each $1,000 of taxable value — if not lower it. Several commissioners want to approve a reduction, but they are waiting for additional information from Ladner given changes to the budget that were made at the Aug. 15 meeting.

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