Council amends proposed ordinance that implements bonus for first-time police officers

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:59 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - At Monday night’s 6:30 p.m. regular meeting, Fairbanks City Council members slightly adjusted a plan for offering a $20,000 hiring bonus to first-time police officers.

The proposed ordinance aims at generating local applicants for the Fairbanks Police Department via the bonus.

City Mayor David Pruhs introduced the measure at a Nov. 6 budget meeting as a way to complement incentives the council put into the place over the summer that were designed to bring in and retain officers at the understaffed department.

Those efforts boosted wages and benefits, with one adding a $60,000 bonus for lateral hires, or officers who apply with previous law enforcement experience. For Pruhs, the new measure addresses the flipside of that proverbial coin by creating a similar incentive for people without experience at other agencies to apply.

Councilmember John Ringstad, however, pulled the ordinance from the consent agenda to get the council talking about the also-understaffed Fairbanks Emergency Communications Center (FECC).

“I don’t conceptually have a problem with doing this,” Ringstad said of the ordinance at hand. He continued, “I do have serious concern about the timing and the priority of doing this. We’ve done a lot of work, and we’ve given a lot to the police department in the last six months.

“I think that was the right thing to do. I look at our situation overall, and I think we still have significant work to do ... I think we have work to do at our dispatch office, and rather than go back into the police department at this point in time, I would rather say let’s focus and get the dispatch office up to where we are,” Ringstad said.

An ordinance that remains on the consent agenda advances to a second reading and public hearing without further discussion. Another ordinance shifting certain land use decisions over to the city from the borough, for instance, stayed on the consent agenda and will also come up at the next council meeting.

In response to Ringstad’s comments, Pruhs appreciated the council member’s attentiveness to FECC’s needs but assured Ringstad that this potential tool for FPD recruitment will not impede ongoing attempts to solve staffing issues elsewhere.

“We know we have work to do in dispatch … I appreciate your thought on dispatch so much, but I just don’t see how delaying this will stop our work on dispatch or reprioritize our work on dispatch,” Pruhs said.

Separately, Council Member Jerry Cleworth mentioned he thought the schedule for delivering the payment as described in the ordinance could use an alteration to better ensure retention of the hypothetical hires.

“If they cut on us and move to other states, we’re kind of cooked on this … so I think we need to limit our liability a little bit on that,” he said.

Though the original ordinance had officers who resign before three years of employment pay back a prorated amount of the bonus, Cleworth wasn’t so sure the city would have success tracking down those partial reimbursements if the situation happened to arise.

Cleworth’s solution: delay half the payment.

In the original version, the city would have paid the sum to new officers all in one chunk following completion of field training — approximately nine months after hire. Cleworth’s amendment splits the payment in two.

“I would change that last sentence to say: ‘The city will pay 10,000 dollars of the bonus in the employee’s first paycheck following field training, and 10,000 after completion of 24 months,’” Cleworth said of his amendment.

No members disagreed, and Council Member Sue Sprinkle turned on her microphone to concur.

“That split makes me happy as an incentive to stay, and I also love that we’re trying to encourage people who live here [to apply],” she said.

The ordinance was amended and cruised through roll call with six ayes and zero nays.

It will get a spot on the council’s Nov. 27 agenda for another reading and a public hearing at the regular 6:30 p.m. meeting.