Several members of the Escalon Police Officers Association (POA) stepped up to the podium on Monday night, June 20, asking members of the Escalon City Council to raise pay for officers.
Contract negotiations with the city are at an impasse, POA Vice President Anthony Hardgraves said, and those attending the council meeting stressed that officers need to make a living wage in order to work for the city.
Many officers, said those testifying, have left Escalon for higher pay elsewhere, including departments nearby such as Oakdale and Manteca.
While the topic of a contract was not on the open session agenda, it was scheduled to be heard in closed session. Mayor Ed Alves said the council could not take any action in open session other than to hear the testimony of those taking the podium.
Information presented by the POA members indicate that, between 2013 and 2020, the pay for officers in Escalon increased by a little more than 17 percent, but benefits were cut by more than 44 percent.
The information also showed that Escalon POA members received a 2 percent raise in Fiscal Year 2017-18; another 2 percent in 2018-19; 3 percent in 2019-20 and 2.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2020-21. Those small raises, officers said, came even as surpluses in the police department personnel budget ranged from $95,000 in 2018 to a high of $280,000 in 2020.
“Over the past eight years, the City of Escalon has added approximately $2 million to its general reserve fund,” a handout from the POA noted. “Nearly half of that came from the Police Department personnel budget. The City of Escalon has repeatedly told the Escalon Police Officers Association (EPOA) that they cannot afford to give us pay raises that would allow us to compete with surrounding agencies, yet they underspend the money made available by an average of over $100,000 per year.”
Officer Carl Poortinga offered some comment on behalf of the POA members, asking the council to bring officer salaries more in line with surrounding communities. Many speakers also pointed to the fact that Escalon officers often receive their training here, then move on to a department where they can get a higher wage.
One speaker at the podium noted that made the literal definition of Escalon – “Stepping Stone” – take on new meaning.
“I get to know somebody and they’re gone,” added longtime Police Department senior volunteer David Willis in addressing the council. “We’ve got to do something. There is a solution out there … I hope you guys can find it.”
Local resident Shawn Strohman also urged the council to step up to the plate.
“As a community member and a Cub Scout leader, I can tell you, these are the best of the best,” Strohman said of the local officers. “They take time for the community.”
Residents that spoke were all in agreement that the city needs to find a way to make sure the officers that work in the community can afford to live here as well.
“Compared to all 13 law enforcement agencies in San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties, Escalon is the lowest paid,” the POA handout stated, with the city coming in 13th place. “A top step officer in Escalon makes 4 percent less than a top step officer from Newman, which is in 12th place, and 22 percent less than an officer from Oakdale, which is in 11th place.”
With budget work ongoing, the POA members – and supporters in the crowd – reiterated the need for finding funds in the budget to raise the pay for officers in the department.
One speaker also encouraged all in attendance to give the officers a round of applause – which they did – thanking the police personnel for their service.
The closed session portion of the Monday night council meeting was held past press time; look for additional information in the June 29 issue.
The council did approve the 2022-23 city budget during the open session, but indicated that it can always be amended. Depending on contract negotiations with the POA, amendments to the police department budget may be necessary.