South Bethany changes holiday pay, police rankings, charter

Date Published: 
Dec. 22, 2017

After months of public advocacy for the police and begging the South Bethany Town Council not to outsource police officers — no one from the general public made substantial comments last week when the council rolled out changes to employee policies.

On Dec. 8, the council approved a charter change, holiday pay payouts, new police rankings and more employee policy changes.

“I do want to recognize that this is the culmination of close to a year’s worth of work that crossed two councils, that has been done to unify and simplify our town policy,” said Councilman Tim Saxton.

The council voted almost unanimously on the stack of changes proposed by the Archer Law consultants and ICMA Center for Public Safety Management (ICMA/CPSM).

The afternoon council meeting was held two hours earlier than usual, so the mayor and two council members could close town hall to meet with all Town staff and police officers. More details were released publicly afterward.

Various changes

The council unanimously agreed to request a town charter amendment, which changes the reporting structure for the police chief, to now report to the town manager. That arrangement is common in nearby towns. The charter change must pass the Delaware General Assembly with a two-thirds majority in order to go into effect.

Sick leave will be capped at an accrual of 200 sick days per employee. Employees who currently have more days than that will not be required to forfeit any.

The SBPD Take Home Car program will be rescinded for new hires. Current officers will be grandfathered for continued use of vehicles.

All existing pay charts will be rescinded. Instead, pay raises will be based on merit and cost-of-living increases.

Employees are still eligible for educational assistance. But course study must be approved before the fiscal year, with an annual cap of $3,000 per employee.

Vacation and comp time

Benefits were rewritten, partly to clear up prior confusion and reduce future liability. Compensatory time will be limited to a 40-hour accumulation annually per employee. This month, anything above 40 hours will be paid out. Then, in April of 2018, any of the remaining 40 hours will be paid down as well. All employees will begin with a zero balance on May 1, 2018.

Similarly, vacation time will be limited to 240 hours annually per employee. Any hours above that will be paid out by the end of April of 2018. Going forward, the Town will practice a “use it or lose it” policy.

Based on recent calculation, Saxton estimated that the payout for both changes should not exceed $60,000. Employees may use their comp and vacation time before the deadlines, if they prefer the time to the money. The goal is to get the Town to a fresh starting point so they can apply new policies across the board in the new fiscal year.

Conflict in the police ranking

The police department’s waterfall of ranks will now be reduced to four simple ranks: chief, sergeant, police officer and probationary police officer.

“All current officers will have their rank grandfathered. Due to a prior policy of two-year service consideration for additional compensation, all officers’ salaries will be examined for a possible adjustment to their annual salary in FY 2018. Town Council is currently studying those calculations and will attempt to adjust salaries where possible,” the council stated.

Councilwoman Sue Callaway voted against the new policy manual as a whole, saying that she disagreed with the new rank structure.

“For financial reasons and the future of the Town, I support the proposed future changes and rank structure and the policies that we have in this resolution,” Callaway said. “But I am opposed to the rank opportunities for current long-time employees.”

“We had too many ranks,” she agreed. “We had 17 ranks.”

But Callaway said she doesn’t like the police being “frozen in place in their rank. … It’s very important within law-enforcement. Ranking is very important.” The town must consider recruitment and retention in addition to minimizing ranks and addressing increasing police costs, she said.

Although none of the police employees attended the council meeting, Callaway said there has been unhappiness expressed.

“The word that I’ve heard is ‘devastating.’ I can’t speak to why they’ve used that word,” she said.

Later on Friday afternoon, the Town posted an agenda for a town council executive session to discuss individual employees, on Dec. 15 at 2:30 p.m.

Police building to be reconsidered

On Dec. 8, the council also considered discussion of the proposed police department renovations. After identifying some major liabilities in the current police station, they allowed some low-cost rearranging of the offices, to help separate the evidence, interview and processing areas for detainees. There are new keycards and fewer windows near detainees.

However, Police Chief Troy Crowson said there is room for improvement, such as bullet-resistant glass and better audio separation of detainees.

After the original cost estimates for some building renovations were higher than anticipated, Crowson enlisted professional help to draft a new proposal for interior renovations.

Some walls would be rearranged to split the multipurpose room into distinct locker room, shower and kitchen areas. Evidence and processing would be further separated, and the armory would have limited, key-card access.

Renovations would also limit the eye-line from the front window back into the station.

It appears that the building footprint would only change a small bit, with a realignment of the side-entrance staircase.

If the project is approved, the disruption to service should be “minimal,” the chief said. The timeline could be several months for the $60,000- to $80,000-project. Discussion will continue in February.

In addition to possible grants or donations that might be available, Saxton requested that the Town’s Budget & Finance Committee review the project to identify other sources of money.