Brownstown police discuss pay, benefits with council

The Jackson County Banner

Looking up the base salary of a Brownstown Police Department officer over the last 16 years, Ryan Cherry learned it had only increased $1.88.

The hourly rate was $18.17 in 2005 and currently is $20.05.

In his two years on the force, Cherry said he has yet to receive a raise.

Couple that with officers’ insurance increasing $100 a month at the beginning of the year without them being notified, Cherry and his seven fellow officers attended a recent Brownsotwn Town Council in hopes of sharing their insight and getting questions answered.

“Basically, what I’m asking for is for you guys to take into consideration I want to keep these guys. These are my guys, they are all great and I don’t want to lose any of them. I think we have a great department,” he told the council, which had four of five members present.

Area departments that offer higher pay and other incentives are hiring, and Cherry said he doesn’t want to see any of his co-workers leave.

In his research of other departments and towns similar to Brownstown, Cherry found Syracuse in Kosciusko County that has a slightly lower population but has one more officer than Brownstown.

Averaging six of Brownstown’s lowest paying officers, Cherry said annual pay is $47,000 with overtime included. In Syracuse, the average is $53,230.

He also said both Seymour and North Vernon have higher annual pay.

He said Seymour gave annual raises when he worked there and has ever since he left. Also, the uniform allowance is higher, and there are incentives for staying healthy and working night shift.

“I get they are a bigger city, but if you want to keep the department good and the way that Tom (Hanner, chief) has got it and Joe (Kelly, assistant chief) has got it, we’ve got to give our guys an incentive to stay or else we’re going to lose to them to Seymour, we’re going to lose them to North Vernon and Columbus,” Cherry said. “All of those places pay better than we do and have better incentives than we do overall.”

Cherry said North Vernon offers 10 years of lateral pay and a higher uniform allowance, and the city pays 90% of an officer’s health insurance, leaving only 10% for the employee to pay.

“To me, that’s huge. That’s a pay raise in itself,” he said. “Our insurance, however, went up in January, and we weren’t told about it. It went up $50 per pay, which is $100 a month, which may not seem like a whole lot to some people, but $1,200 right now is a lot of money, and I don’t have that in my pocket.”

Cherry said he’s losing money this year because of insurance.

“Myself and some of these guys that do have the payment plan through the department, they don’t want to be shocked come January next year and we switch insurance companies for whatever reason and then we get another jump,” he said. “We’ve got to get something figured out, and if that means switching again, I’m all for it, but let’s find something that’s worth it.”

The officers also would like to see part of the Public Employees’ Retirement Fund paid for, Cherry said.

“That would be great. That’s an incentive for officers to stay. That puts money back in their paycheck instead of us paying the PERF,” he said.

Officer John Amis also spoke during the meeting and shared similar thoughts as Cherry.

He said he is having to work security at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for 14 days a month to help him pay his bills and cover the insurance cost increase.

“If something doesn’t change, you’re going to lose people,” Amis said. “I don’t want to leave. I love this department, and I think we have a great council. I don’t want to leave Brownstown, but something’s got to give or something’s got to change because I can’t live off of (the lower pay and higher insurance).”

Detective Jac Sanders said while he’s on a different level than the officers, he still came to the meeting to support them and asked the council what happened to the money that was budgeted for a ninth officer that never has been hired.

“I stand behind every one of these guys personally. They confide in me, and I believe 100% in every one of these guys. This is the best crew, and I mean that sincerely,” Sanders said. “They love their jobs, and I’m looking forward to that ninth guy because when that ninth guy gets to come in, I get to come out of uniform (retire).”

Council President Gregg Goshorn said a couple of years ago, the council aggressively tried to react to some requests to have better insurance for police officers and town employees.

They came up with one-time money to put toward that, but the following year, it wasn’t available, so it was incorporated from the general fund, he said.

“Some of that insurance money we increased and got a little bit better insurance coverage came from some of that money for the ninth guy,” Goshorn said.

“We rebudgeted for officers to have better insurance, but a year afterwards, it got worse,” Cherry responded. “You guys don’t understand you’re taking away from our families. … You’re going to lose two or three people real quick, maybe more, if you don’t do something.”

Goshorn said he would like to meet with all of the town’s department heads, including Hanner, to go over the budget to see where each area is at, what insurance costs are and what’s needed.

Hanner said he fought hard to have school resource officers present in the schools, but if he starts losing officers due to the pay and benefits situation, he can’t man the schools.

“We can’t be a steppingstone. Steppingstone police departments are going to become nonexistent. That department is going to die,” he said. “It’s extremely hard to find people to do this job that’s going to stick it out for 20 years. Most people can’t deal with the physical and mental injuries that go with it.”

He said he supports his officers.

“I don’t see this as an ultimatum,” Hanner said. “I respect that they came to me and told me ‘We’re getting recruited.’ We do that for our family. We’re all friends. We’re family. … I hope we can get it done in a timely manner and get answers.”

Goshorn said he appreciated everyone from the police department attending the meeting and being willing to discuss it in an open forum.

“It’s a sign of mutual respect,” he said. “We appreciate what you guys do every day. It’s not like we take this job, this position lightly. We want to let everybody know that we appreciate it and we try to do what we can to make things better.”

Councilwoman Sharon Koch responded with “I agree 100%.”

“I look forward to a time where we can be able to discuss the budget with the department heads and see if we can come up with some solutions,” Goshorn said.

“Thanks for what you guys do,” Cherry said to the council. “I know you guys all have other jobs besides this, and we appreciate your service here for the town.”