Earlier this week, Salt Lake City police union officials were calling for a federal mediator to settle their wage dispute with the city.
Now that they have one, they're not sure they're happy.David Greer, president of the Salt Lake Police Association, which represents 240 of the city's 290 officers, said he thought the union would have been involved in choosing the mediator.
"I found out about this late yesterday," he said Thursday, referring to notice he received from Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis that the mediator will be used. "Usually the mediating agency will send a list, and we will strike off names. I'm a little leery. We need to know why we didn't go through a strike-off."
DePaulis said the mediator's first meeting with both parties will be Friday. He said he is hopeful an agreement can be reached by May 20.
"I see this as a hopeful sign," he said of the need to bring in a mediator, the first time DePaulis has had to do so. "This is a tool."
But Greer added, "I think it will be difficult."
The police union is asking for a 4 percent cost-of-living raise for all officers. The city wants to grant a 1 percent raise, plus an average merit raise of 2.75 percent and a one-time bonus for all employees of 1 percent.
DePaulis said tight city coffers won't allow much more for salaries. "I've been careful not to raise expectations," he said.
Union officials released figures earlier this week showing that Salt Lake police earn far less than officers in other cities. DePaulis said those figures were misleading because they didn't include benefits, such as the free use of department automobiles by Salt Lake officers.
But Greer said police officers received the cars in 1982 in lieu of a 5-percent raise. He said most cities provide cars for police officers, and he's tired of the city making the cars an issue.
"Quite frankly, he (DePaulis) is about to get 300 cop cars parked on his front yard with the keys in a gunny sack," Greer said. "We're trying to make up for lost ground and they never seem to have enough money to give us what we need."
Meanwhile, DePaulis also came under fire Thursday from the Utah Taxpayers Association for a proposed $36 yearly storm-drainage fee for each household. DePaulis said the fee is needed to meet guidelines the federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to impose.
The fee is nothing but the largest tax increase since 1983 and will be used to bolster the city's general fund, said Howard Stephenson, president of the association.
The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget at a public hearing at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, in the City Council Chambers, 451 S. State, Room 315.
Police Department investigated\
The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the Salt Lake City Police Department, studying how it pays overtime and handles other wage issues, officials say.
Labor officials were tight-lipped about the investigation Thursday. Ruth Bauman, director of the wage and hours division, said only that the probe has nothing to do with the current impasse in salary negotiations between the city and its police union.
Union leader David Greer said he was told the Labor Department has about a two-year backlog of complaints. "How on earth could the union possibly have timed this to happen now?" he asked.
City officials were equally tight-lipped about the probe. They said they are unsure whether it was prompted by a complaint or was simply a routine audit.
"I can confirm that there is an investigation, and we're right in the middle of it," said Assistant City Attorney Frank Nakamura.