PV council approves measures to bring employee pay in line with area cities; police chief says step could help with officer retention

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The Prairie Village City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a series of measures that will add approximately $225,000 to the city’s payroll in 2018 in an effort to bring municipal employees’ compensation more in line with other cities.

The changes — which include an increase to the salary ranges for several categories of employees, a series of raises for employees currently paid significantly below the market rate for their jobs, and an overall 1.5 percent adjustment to employee compensation levels — come in the wake of a compensation study conducted by Gail Meriweather of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. earlier this year.

Meriweather’s findings, which were presented to the council at its mid-April meeting, suggested Prairie Village’s compensation structure lagged well behind comparable cities in Johnson County and beyond. On average, Prairie Village employees were being paid 9 percent less than their peers in similar roles at other cities.

The deficit in compensation levels was particularly acute in the police department, which has seen an attrition of sworn officers in recent years. Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf told the city council on Monday that a number of factors played into the challenges of keeping the department fully staffed, and that law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling to fill officer openings. Still, Schwartzkopf argued Monday that increasing the salaries for Prairie Village police to make them more comparable to what other Johnson County cities are paying would “level the playing field.”

“We are competing with the city of Overland Park. We are competing with the city of Shawnee, with the city of Lenexa, with the city of Olathe, with the city of Merriam,” Schwartzkopf said. “So we need to stay competitive with them. For me, it’s take that component off the table. Level the playing field so our officers know they are valued, that the city says we are going to competitively pay you because that’s what happening to all their neighbors.”

Though the department did hold a swearing-in ceremony at Monday’s meeting for four recently hired officers, it is currently six officers below being fully staffed. Two officers just put in their notices in recent weeks.

“We lose too many more, you are talking about an impact of service to our residents — it’s already impacting them,” Schwartzkopf said. “I’m not saying the sky is falling. But, we lose too many more, and there will be service items that we aren’t going to be able to do, there will be certain investigations that may not get investigated.”

Approximately 75 percent of the increases in payroll that will result from the changes to the compensation structure will go toward Prairie Village police officers.

Ward 5 councilman Dan Runion voted against the city administrator’s recommended changes to the city’s compensation structure. All of the other councilmembers present vote in favor of it. (Councilman Ted Odell was absent from Monday’s meeting). The council will give final approval to the changes during its votes on the 2018 budget later this year.