Town of Palm Beach News

Town Council Works to Retain Police & Firefighters

The Town of Palm Beach is currently undergoing a study to determine why so many of the Town’s firefighters and police are leaving for other agencies, as first reported by the Palm Beach Daily News.

The study, however, comparing compensation of town employees to the local market, will not be complete for several weeks. On Wednesday, the Town Council’s Public Safety Committee decided that they could not afford to wait for the end of the study.

According to council members, the committee already has an idea of what the problem areas are based on conversations with dozens of Palm Beach public safety employees.

“They explained what the issues are,” said Councilwoman Julie Araskog, who is also on the Public Safety Committee. “We do know where we’re following short.”

Councilwoman Margaret Zeidman, who chairs the panel, believes that action needs to be taken. “Our boiling point is public safety. That is where we need to focus our immediate attention.”

Town Manager Kirk Blouin and Finance Director Jane Le Clainche are analyzing the cost of returning police officers to a popular step-based salary system, Zeidman said.

Town Council Works to Retain Police & Firefighters

In 2012, the Town Council replaced the step system with a pay-for-performance model that requires officers to work 12 to 16 years before reaching the top of the pay scale. Officers in the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies are able to reach top salary in ten years, Zeidman said.

The step-based model now being considered is a “hybrid” in which longevity and performance would be considered when determining raises, Zeidman explained.

For firefighters, Blouin and Le Clainche are considering the cost of returning to a 48-hour work week, as opposed to the current 50.4 hour week. They are also considering implementing a 21-day pay period that would eliminate the paycheck fluctuations firefighters experience under the 28 day pay period.

The same plan that changed the model for police pay in 2012 also included deep cuts to the town’s pension plan. The cuts required police and firefighters to wait until they were 65 to draw their pensions. Prior to the 2012 plan, they could collect pensions after 20 years of employment.

Related >>> Town of Palm Beach Police Department Gets New Equipment

Since 2012, a record number of public safety workers have left Palm Beach, including more than 70 police officers and over 80 certified firefighters, according to town records. Public safety workers tend to stay in Palm Beach for only a few years before leaving for better benefits.

Although some of the benefits have since been restored, the plan still lags behind other agencies. As department leaders retire, few employees have the experience and skills to replace them. This is creating a management gap that threatens the future of the departments.

“This is so important,” Zeidman said. “We have to get it right and do it as expediently as we can.”

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Alanna Barrett

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