The city of Kokomo ratified contracts with both the Kokomo Fraternal Order of Police and Professional Firefighters of Kokomo, dishing out $1.5 million in raises and benefits to the departments.
Last week, the Kokomo Board of Works ratified contracts with both the police and firefighter unions. Members of the Kokomo Police Department will be getting 20-percent raises over the next three years, which is the length of the contract. Meanwhile, members of the Kokomo Fire Department will be getting nine-percent raises over the same length of time, while the department also had its retiree healthcare benefits restored.
According to Mayor Tyler Moore, the overall goal of the contracts is to help spur recruitment efforts within each department, which was a mainstay of his election campaign last year. In particular, with a recent change to state-level legislation that allowed public safety workers to work within 50 miles of the municipality they serve, Moore said he hoped the city could better draw in recruits from outside areas. And, he noted, with the police academy closed due to COVID-19, a particular focus would be put on drawing in lateral transfers from other departments instead of completely-new officers.
“We’re obviously competing with Hamilton County and some of Marion County,” said Moore. “Those areas have more desirable wages and such. This allows us to compete better to recruit folks from that area as well. Obviously, the level of skill and talent that we’ve experienced recently with our recruits is still top-notch, but the constant concern with the low level of the applicant pool time and time again, we hope will be rectified by now demonstrating that the administration is serious about public safety and supporting our law enforcement first responders here in Kokomo.”
Within the new contract, KPD officers will receive a 16-percent boost in pay the first year and then two percent for each following year of the three-year deal.
Overall, Moore said the increases amounted to about a $720,000 increase to the department’s salaries, which was handled within the existing budget.
“This chief and this mayor have done such a good job at supporting us in what we do,” said FOP President Jeramie Dodd. “This is a time when the buzzwords are ‘defund the police’ across the nation. The mayor has gone in the opposite direction of those buzzwords to support the police. The chief supports us in what we do and has an open-door policy. All of these things have helped us do our job.”
As Dodd pointed out, the move to increase the police department’s budget comes at a time when municipalities across the nation are reexamining police funding in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where an officer knelt on Floyd until he died. “Defunding the police,” as the movement has been coined, involves the concept of divesting funds from police departments and reallocating it to other programs, such as mental health services, depending upon the area.
Moore said he supported increasing funding because he hoped that increasing the police department’s budget and bringing in more officers would allow the city to still move toward the same end.
“Obviously, in light of other areas of the country calling for municipalities to defund the police, it was our intent to show that we appreciate their efforts, and, in doing so, adding those numbers for both police and fire gives us the opportunity for additional ways to get out and better the relationships within the community,” said Moore, “which, I think, a lot of folks say is where we’ve failed in the past.”
By the end of the year, Moore said he expected KPD to consist of about 78 officers, and he hoped over time to increase that amount to about 100.
Raises also were granted to members of KFD. With this new three-year contract, which like the police contract begins at the start of 2021, firefighters will get a five-percent raise the first year, followed by two-percent raises each of the following two years.
Firefighters also received a benefit that they’d long-sought, especially during the last round of contentious negotiations with Mayor Greg Goodnight’s administration. That comes in the form of a return to retiree healthcare, which was nixed years ago in a previous contract.
Between the addition of retiree healthcare and the raises, Moore said the total investment into the department’s salary increases and the addition of retiree benefits also amounted to about $720,000.
Between the benefits doled out to both departments, the entirety of the increases amounted to about $1.44 million, which the mayor said was within the existing budgets.
“We’re still working within the budgets as they’ve been set,” said Moore. “It’s not, at this time, pulling any money from anywhere else or reallocating anything. We’re working with the budgets that were set by the prior administration.”
President of the firefighters local, Andy Eschelman, said the new contract would help draw in more recruits to KFD.
“The biggest importance is when we leave this job, we all have something we’ve taken with us, whether it’s cancer, a bad back, knees, whatever it might be,” said Eschelman. “This just helps our guys when they retire with whatever may arise. With the fire department, we have one of the highest cancer rates in the nation. Through legislation, we had some laws come into effect that have actually helped us in the long run. And it also gives the retirees, the guys that are retired right now, it will give them insurance also. Some of them have been without insurance because of the cost.”
This year, a few firefighters have been added to the ranks of KFD, bringing the number of firefighters with the department to about 85. As with KPD, Moore said he hoped to increase the fire department to about 100 firefighters over time.