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SALT LAKE CITY — After a key meeting Tuesday meant to drill down on how to address Unified Police Department's budget woes this year, Midvale leaders were still left frustrated and uncertain of their future with the police department.
Midvale City Councilman Paul Glover, who represented the city on Unified's board of trustees, left Tuesday's meeting exasperated, unsure how he and his fellow colleagues on the council would proceed.
Midvale leaders have been negotiating with Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera leading up to Tuesday's meeting — but of three possible budget scenarios presented Tuesday, even the lowest proposal stretched Midvale's budget to its limits, Glover said.
And since other Unified member cities want to increase officer pay as much as possible this year to keep the organization competitive with other agencies, Midvale is under pressure to take an even bigger bill.
That puts Midvale smack in the middle of a "big discussion of what we want to do" and whether it will continue to contract with Unified, Glover said.
"Because we are either going to have to raise taxes by 40 or 50 percent, or we'll end up possibly doing our own thing," he said. "I don't know."
It's unclear how Glover's colleagues on the council will react.
"We'll find out," he said with a shrug.
Unified's board of trustees didn't make any decisions Tuesday but directed Rivera to come back to the board June 20 with three solid budget proposals, all designed to give Unified police raises.
But the question is, how big of a pay raise can Unified afford without risking losing Midvale as a member?
All of Rivera's budget proposals include a 2 percent cost of living and a 2.75 percent merit increase for Unified's officers. What differs between budget scenarios is whether officers would also get a 2 percent, 4 percent or 6 percent market increase to make sworn police officers' salaries more competitive with other agencies.
Many of Unified's board members are eager to give officers as big of a pay bump as possible since the agency is struggling to keep officers during a time when other cities are also giving pay raises to prevent losing staff to higher-paying departments.
Board member and Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini told Rivera he favored the 4 percent option. Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson said she'd prefer 6 percent. Then Kearns Metro Township Councilman Alan Peterson said he'd want an 8 percent hike.
"You guys are killing me," Rivera said.
Behind her, a crowd of Unified police officers watching the meeting broke out in laughter and applause.
The sheriff would be thrilled to give her officers an even pay hike — but it's not so simple.
After Herriman and Riverton split from Unified to form their own police departments amid frustrations with rising costs and transparency concerns with past budgets, Unified has had to spread its remaining regional costs on other member cities.
After officers applauded board members for supporting even higher pay raises, the Midvale councilman sitting on Unified's board chimed in, knowing he wasn't going to draw any claps.
"Midvale will have a hard time if it's any more than the proposed budget we're talking about, the 2 percent," Glover said. "We're having a hard time with even that, to be perfectly honest with you."
Rivera suggested her team and Midvale officials sit down again to go over budget numbers.
After the meeting, Glover wasn't happy.
"I just don't quite understand why we're not getting the cuts that we need," Glover told KSL "It's very frustrating because we love UPD. I love my officers; we love our chief. They've done a phenomenal job. … But It's really hard to keep raising taxes when our citizens can't afford it."
Midvale leaders in recent weeks have mulled following Riverton and Herriman's lead and leaving Unified, but in a recent City Council meeting they decided against sending a letter of intent to withdraw, deciding to give Unified more time to cut costs and finalize the budget.
Glover said the Midvale City Council likely won't make any decisions for at least another two weeks.
One Unified board member, Magna Metro Township Councilman Steve Prokopis, said he sympathizes with Midvale, but "we're all facing it."
"I don't want to lose Midvale. I don't want to lose anybody. I believe in the model wholeheartedly," Prokopis said, but added that he worries the city's hesitance will continue keeping Unified behind the curve when it comes to competitive salaries.
Prokopis said he prioritizes public safety above everything else in his city's budget, and "you get what you pay for." He said Unified was "the best in the state and they ought to be compensated accordingly."
"We're still talking to Midvale. We're still negotiating," Rivera said in an interview later Tuesday. "We're doing everything we can to make their budgets work as well for their city because their citizens are important to us and their partnership is really important to us. So we're doing everything we can, and it's up to Midvale whether they want to stay or not."
But, Rivera warned that in two years, Unified will likely be even further behind on officer pay, so the board will likely continue pushing for more drastic pay raises.
We're still talking to Midvale. We're still negotiating. We're doing everything we can to make their budgets work as well for their city because their citizens are important to us and their partnership is really important to us. So we're doing everything we can, and it's up to Midvale whether they want to stay or not.
–Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera
"So we're going to have to go through this again, and Midvale would have to be prepared at some point to say, 'We're willing to raise taxes to pay for law enforcement services," she said. "But right now they're not."
The sheriff said she's in a "really difficult position."
"I have cut and cut and cut," she said. "I can't cut anymore unless I put officer safety at risk, and I'm not going to do that. I can't."
One additional budget cut the sheriff has proposed to help make ends meet is to cut at least two lieutenant positions — but rather than demote the merit positions and thus cause a domino-effect of demotions within the force that would negatively affect employee morale, the board gave Rivera the green light to use up to $200,000 to offer buyouts to those lieutenants.
Those staff cuts could save an estimated $200,000 to $300,0000 potentially for the entire department, Rivera said. It helps reduce the entire budget slightly across the board for membership costs, but not by much.
"Every little bit's important when they're telling you to cut your budgets if you want raises," she said.