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Finance committee considers police raises

WINTERSVILLE — Wintersville Police Chief Art Fowler asked council’s finance committee to consider a new pay structure for members of his department he hopes will help to attract and retain personnel.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Fowler proposed giving all staff, including nine officers and two clerks, a $1.50 per hour raise.

He also suggested raising the starting hourly wage for new officers from $12.60 to $15 and the hourly wage following the year-long probationary period from $13.50 to $15.72.

He suggested reducing the officers’ regular schedules from the current 85.5 hours for a two-week period to 80 hours for the same timeframe, with the officers being paid for overtime only after they have worked 86 hours.

Fowler said the move would comply with state wage laws for first responders and was supported by the village’s officers, who welcomed higher pay for their regular hours.

He said the raises could be given within his department’s current budget because a longtime officer has retired and will be replaced by a new officer at the starting wage.

“It’s basically a reallocation of funds that have already been given to me,” said Fowler.

The meeting came after Fowler told council the starting wage for the village’s officers is the lowest in Jefferson, Harrison and Tuscarawas counties.

Councilman Jason Mattern asked Fowler about the number of officers in other villages and townships in the county and the hours they work and was told none have as many as Wintersville and there may be no other departments among them that provide 24-hour coverage.

“I’m very appreciative of having that full service,” said Mattern, who added later, “You are unique and should be commended for that.”

Councilwoman Gael Damron agreed, saying the level of police protection is one reason she likes living in Wintersville.

Fowler had questioned earlier the planned hiring of three city workers at a starting wage higher than the police officers.

Village Administrator Walter Ziemba said two of the three will be hired for the water and sewer departments and paid from their funds, which, under state regulations, are separate from the general fund.

Mattern noted the village’s general fund is about $300,000, “which is not a lot to play with.”

He and Councilman Bob Merriman, who chairs the finance committee, agreed the starting wage for officers and pay for the department’s clerks, which falls below it, should be raised.

But they expressed concern about a long-term impact on the village’s finances.

“The goal is to protect our citizens, but we have to be fiscally responsible,” said Mattern.

He asked whether federal American Rescue Plan funds coming to the village, in two disbursements of about $192,000 each, may be used for law enforcement.

Told it must be used for infrastructure, he said that was disappointing.

Mattern said during the last 11 years, council has approved 2 percent to 5 percent raises for all staff and pay hikes for four senior officers to reflect their longevity.

He added the village also pays 100 percent of its employees’ health care premiums and 70 percent of their deductibles.

But Mattern added he and others will give serious consideration to Fowler’s proposal and thanked the police chief and two village officers who attended the meeting for their input.

He also noted the request will come down to a vote by all on council.

Council’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Municipal Building.

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