Shawn Butler

Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler speaks before the city council about raising the base pay of Auburn police officers. The department is currently understaffed. 

AUBURN — With a unanimous "yes," the Auburn City Council voted Thursday to reduce the Auburn Police Department's 10-step pay scale to an eight-step one, granting officers who make below the top-tier pay a wage increase. 

A language adjustment to APD's contract with the city was also made, easing restrictions on lateral transfers from other agencies. These changes will be in effect until June 2022, when the department's collective bargaining agreement expires. 

Prior to Thursday's meeting, the APD did not offer transfer candidates salaries higher than the old pay scale's step-four increment of $51,104. This restriction was removed in hopes to offer more attractive salaries to candidates from other agencies who may have years of experience. 

Struggling with a short staff, the police department is hoping to better brand itself to recruits. The department had been budgeted as if it had a roster of 67 sworn officers, but between recent retirements, transfers, injuries and military deployments, 54 officers remain. The department hopes the new pay scale, which bumps up the department's starting wage from $39,263 to $44,766, will draw in more recruits.

The state has yet to announce the next police officer entrance exam, but Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler, who spoke to the council Thursday, said that when a date is set, the APD will "ramp up" its efforts in boosting its applicant pool. 

About 130 (out of 150) APD candidates passed the civil service exam in September, but that pool has nearly been exhausted since then.  

"This issue that has rose in the last several months is a serious issue when it comes to public safety and officer safety," said Auburn City Manager Jeff Dygert before the vote. 

Dygert added that no one had complained about the police department's previous pay scale. 

"At no point all did anyone come to me or anybody with the city and say 'the agreement we got isn't fair, it's not enough.' That's never been part of the conversation," he said. "The conversation has been 'the police department doesn't have the people.'"

In a council memorandum, Butler cited physical fitness tests, psychological background checks and "constant negativity in the media concerning the policing profession" as reasons for why the officer candidate pool is shrinking. 

Butler attached to the memo the base pay for the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office and police departments in Geneva and Ithaca. All of the starting salaries are at least $5,000 above Auburn's. 

Nineteen APD employees will see pay raises in light of the city council's approval, resulting in a total increase of $123,479 to the department's payroll. Retirements and vacant positions have brought an overall salary savings of roughly $92,000, bringing the department's surplus to about $260,000. 

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or dan.orzechowski@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan.