New police officers in Salt Lake City earn so little that some of them qualify for food stamps and other public assistance programs, a leader of the Police Association said.

Dave Greer, president of the Salt Lake association that represents about 240 of the city's 290 police officers, declared an impasse Monday between the union and the city and called for a federal mediator to resolve it.But Mayor Palmer DePaulis stopped short of joining the declaration, saying he hopes both sides can hammer out a solution. He plans to discuss the problem with the City Council on Tuesday.

"Mediation is one alternative," DePaulis said. "We haven't ever done that before because we've always worked things out."

He also blasted salary comparisons released by the union, noting they examine only base beginning salariesand don't include total benefits. For instance, Salt Lake officers each receive a car they can use for personal reasons, he said.

He said the union is zeroing in on new employees this year because it asked for and received higher wages for its more experienced workers last time. "I've been through this six times now," DePaulis said. "It's all part of the negotiating."

The union dismissed the possibility of a strike. Greer said such tactics would violate the officers' contract. The two parties are trying to reach a new two-year contract before the old one expires June 30.

But if the impasse lasts longer than that, the union will not be bound by its expired contract and may strike or organize a sickout. However, Greer said such action, taken when talks broke down in 1988, would accomplish little.

"All we did last time was make people angry," he said.

Instead, the officers may pressure candidates who enter the mayoral race this year. DePaulis has announced that he will not run. He may decide to run for governor instead.

DePaulis said he is proposing a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for all officers, plus an average merit raise of 2.75 percent for those who deserve it and an additional 1 percent one-time bonus to each employee. DePaulis said the city doesn't have the money for any more.

"We don't buy that," Greer said. "We've seen the city do whatever it wants to do in recent years."

The union wants a 4 percent cost-of-living raise. It also wants to eliminate three pay-grades, meaning officers would move up the scale quicker.

The union's demands would cost the city about $400,000 more, Greer said.

"We want to raise the entry-level pay," he said. "Our entry-level pay now would make a married officer with children eligible for a variety of government public-assistance programs."

He said some officers take advantage of free or reduced-price lunch programs for their children in school. Many also moonlight at other jobs to meet living expenses. Greer said he maintains pipe organs in his spare time.

"The officers are discontented and feeling a little bit militant," Greer said. "We just want to catch up with the city's firefighters. We're about 4 percent behind them now. But we could justify asking for 22 percent all at once."

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Starting point

Here's how much Salt Lake City's beginning police officers earn each month compared to those in other cities:

Bakersfield, Calif. $2,489

Tacoma, Wash. $2,321

New York City $2,165

Orem $1,960

Salt Lake City $1,529

Baton Rouge, La. $1,413