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Millcreek Journal

Mixed feelings surround tax increase for UPD Millcreek police salaries

Oct 21, 2020 01:04PM ● By Kirk Bradford

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini discusses community concerns regarding the current fee schedule for businesses. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

At last month's Millcreek City Council meeting, Mayor Jeff Silvestrini addressed residents’ comments about a new property tax increase. Residents received a notice informing them there was a need to raise property tax nearly 3% to increase Millcreek’s police officer salaries.

Silvestrini detailed the various reasons he felt the tax increase was justified for UPD Millcreek police salaries. 

“The city first implemented the tax in 2018 when we left the SLVLESA (Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Area) police taxing district,” Silvestrini said. “There wasn't a raise in taxes, just a shift in who was collecting it. The proposed increase in the amount of 2.78% will be the first time ever the city has raised its property taxes and we need it to raise the hourly pay of our officers and stay competitive with officers pay in surrounding cities.”

Silvestrini presented visual charts to show the breakdown of the police department and where the money needs to go. Many towns located in Salt Lake County have decided to leave the UPD and form their own department. Millcreek decided to stay with the Unified Police Department. 

In referencing the charts, Silvestrini noted, “Millcreek’s problem right now is that our officers are paid lower than other officers in the Salt Lake Valley UPD. We share things like an evidence locker, homicide detectives, crime lab, forensic lab, gang units and many other services we pay for here in Millcreek. The main expense we have is labor costs.” According to Silvestrini’s chart, it showed how the UPD wages stack up against other agencies. 

According to the chart, Millcreek pays its master officers a rate of $33.51/hour. Master officers are individuals with years of experience. “They are some of the most valuable officers,” Silvestrini said. “We have usually invested money and training with these officers. They aren’t like a green recruit. They are experienced and these are the officers we want to keep. Looking at the chart, these master officers are 12th on the pay wages below towns like Murray, Sandy and Salt Lake City.”

Murray City pays the highest according to the chart. They pay $38.04/hour, putting them $4.53/hour higher than Millcreek. 

Sergeants in Millcreek are currently paid $40.41/hour. They are ranked 10th on the pay wages chart. Murray is also first on the pay wage chart for sergeants paying them $44.96/hour making them $4.55/hour higher than Millcreek. 

Some residents were supportive. Kristeen Balderas said, “I support the taxation and UPD.” Resident Linda Meln said, “I want to pay this increase in support of retaining and attracting good officers.” But after a few positive affirmations about the tax increase, others seemed frustrated with the tax increase. Given the current climate of policing, there were many comments and messages to the council that boldly stated they are not in support of it. 

Resident Renae Gilson said, “I do not support the property tax increase. Looking at my tax’s history, they have gotten $500 over the past five years. Also note that because Millcreek is now a city it charges just as much as the county fee on my bill. I am not in support of more taxation without seeing any growth. If there are cost-of-living type expenses, my income has not gone up. If this money is for the police department, I request that you take good hard look at this expenditure given the current climate. Rather than increasing our force, find ways to decrease lethal equipment and consider different choices in employees that can solve problems without an armed response. De-escalation of weaponry needs to happen on both sides of the law.” 

Many comments were along the lines of what resident Jennica Davis Huckett suggested to the council. “Personally, I am happy to have my property taxes increased slightly to improve community safety but I disagree with you that increasing our funding and dependence on UPD will increase community safety,” Huckett said. “I want my property taxes to go towards schools, addiction services, affordable housing, etc. Not putting it towards more policing. Getting police out of our schools would save us $18,000 a year for example. Imagine what we could do if we invested the needed $700,000 towards community development not community surveillance. The existing funds in the UPD budget should be reallocated internally and externally. Internal funds should go towards mental health services for officers’ preparations for victims of police officer misconduct and proper investigations of community complaints. Externally funds should be allocated to community health initiatives. I want fewer police officers.” 

Millcreek has used property tax solely to pay for police. UPD’s budget has increased to the point that the council feels the increase is necessary to pay the bill. Millcreek’s contract with UPD will increase from $10,761,278 to $11,475,954 for fiscal year 2020-21. This is an increase of $714,676. 

Silvestrini said in a statement to the City Journals regarding the tax increase:

“Wages are the biggest part of our police budget. In the past two years, the UPD board has tried to increase salaries for officers to attempt to compete in the marketplace to recruit and retain officers with the qualifications and training we want to ensure public safety. Even with these increases, given the competition among jurisdictions for a diminishing pool of candidates, UPD officer pay remains in the lower half of jurisdictions in the Salt Lake Valley. The majority of UPD Board members, myself included, do not think this is where we want our department to rank. The alternative to increasing the tax is to cut service, i.e., reduce the number of officers working in our city. To cut $700,000 from our contract would cost us about five officers, including their wages, benefits and equipment. That would result in longer response times and less ability to investigate and solve crimes. Given current concerns with use of force by and proper training of police officers, we certainly do not want to be in a position where UPD is not competitive with other departments in hiring and retaining the best, brightest and highly trained officers. Further, many in our community have suggested we consider reforms to policing, in the form of improved training and augmenting resources for mental health professionals to work alongside officers. These things also cost more, not less money. Police officers have hard and dangerous jobs. In the current climate, there are fewer candidates for police jobs, thus more competition for a smaller pool of officers. Simple supply and demand dictate we pay officers more and that requires more funding unless we are willing to reduce the level of service we receive. We are constantly looking for efficiencies and ways to save money as the UPD Board. No one likes paying more taxes, but we do depend upon our UPD officers and they do a great job for us. We also recognize that this is a difficult year for a tax increase. To defer an increase this year would require a cut in service and potentially a much larger tax increase next year. I hope this information is helpful.”