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Mt. Shasta Police Dept. battles city council over contract negotiations

The Mount Shasta Police Department has been negotiating their union contract with the city since June. (Genevieve Grippo/KTVL)

A small town police department is the lowest paid in Siskiyou County, but their request for higher wages has been turned down by the city time and time again.

"We're strapped as far as we can go with the police department. We don't have any more funds," said Bruce Pope, Mount Shasta's city manager.

Pope is in charge of executing the decisions of city council, the same council that says they're unable to give MSPD officers the raise they're looking for.

When the officers' union contract expired in June, they started negotiations with a request for a 10 percent raise.

City council declined, saying they couldn't do more than two percent for the next two years. The proposition perpetuates a pay that's far behind the norm.

"Obviously two percent a year, when you're so far behind to begin with is just a drop in the bucket," said Kimberly Carelli, the business agent in charge of negotiating on behalf of the officers.

She says that compared to surrounding police departments, the hourly rate of MSPD is significantly lower.

Currently, starting officers make $18.60 an hour according to the department. They say the pay tops out at $23.53 an hour for advanced officers.

That wage is over four dollars less than the next closest competitor.

"I've heard many officers make the comment that with the pay being so low, it feels like our lives are worth only $18.60 an hour. Reality is our children could lose a parent for that little." said a Mt. Shasta police officer, who asked to stay anonymous. They said that several members of the department are forced to work a second job just to get by.

Since 2008, the first-year officer position pay has increased by only 6 cents an hour- a difference of eleven dollars a month.

Compare that to cost of living changes, and officers say they're hardly able to keep up.

"You know just by looking at what the police department wages are, you know that's a good indication of how much they're valued," said Carelli.

"It would be nice to be able to pay them more money," said Pope. "But until the city grows financially, that's not possible."

But the city's finances have been growing. Police pay comes out of a general fund- money that's collected through taxes. The fund has been increasing steadily over the past seven years.

In 2010, the fund's balance was just above $300,000. As of 2016, that balance surged to over $821,000.

The growing general fund is partly due to a rise in Mt. Shasta's Transient Occupancy Tax, a fee visitors pay at all lodging accommodations within city limits. The tax was increased from 8% to 10% in 2009.

Carelli says that the economic department within the teamsters union found no reason why the city wouldn't be able to afford raises for the officers.

"They went over those financial statements and they considered the city to be in solid financial health and have a growing general fund," said Carelli.

Minutes from a city council meeting in September revealed that while the council declined to give officers anything above a two percent raise, they unanimously voted a five percent annual raise for themselves.

Last year, city council members only made $1,650 according to the state controller, but Carelli says that it's a matter of principle.

"I find that very very disheartening, and I feel like it makes a strong statement as to how they feel about their own pay versus servants to the public," said Carelli.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to attend the Mt. Shasta City Council meeting on Dec. 11. It will be held at Mt. Shasta Recreation and Parks District Lodge at 1315 Nixon Road.

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