Lander council reviewing staff salary structure due to high home prices, inflation

The Lander City Council wants to review staff salaries at City Hall in an effort to make municipal wages more competitive.

The conversation arose during a work session last week, when the council reviewed an amended staff salary structure from treasurer Charri Lara.

‘Out of whack’

Lander’s current salary structure has gotten a little “out of whack” because the city hasn’t modified its starting pay rates to reflect the cost-of-living adjustments that existing employees have received over the past several years, Lara said.

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The situation is exacerbated by the local housing market, Lander Police Department chief Scott Peters added.

Just recently, Peters recalled, a Casper resident applied for a position at the LPD, then decided not to pursue the job because of high home prices.

“It was going to cost him – he would go in the hole coming here,” Peters said. “We have that dynamic in play.”

He likened it to the situation that has played out over the past decade or so in Jackson, where many officers now live outside of city limits.

Those out-of-town officers don’t have as much of a “vested interest” in the city, Peters said.

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“If we don’t try to get ahead of it now, before we realize it … we’re going to have a police force that’s living in Pavillion or Hudson or Riverton,” Peters said. “I would rather have them living here.”

‘Working to survive’

The starting pay for police officers was set at $46,500 in the salary structure Lara included in the council packet for last week.

Peters suggested the number should be $50,000 instead.

The LPD currently has six employees who earn less than that amount, Peters said – and nine employees who work part-time jobs just “to make a living.”

“(They) are literally working to survive, because the cost of inflation has gone up so much,” Peters said.

Councilmember Julia Stuble said she was “really troubled” to hear that so many local officers were working part-time jobs to make ends meet.

“I don’t want them to feel the economic pressure to do that,” she said. “I want them to go home and be able to be with their family and get sleep. … Our police force (can) do better at their job when they’re rested.”

She asked Peters what kind of salary adjustments might be needed to address the problem, and he proposed developing a pay scale with built-in salary increases based on years of experience.

“(That way) they know where they’re going,” Peters said. “They know … that they’re not going to be at $50,000 five years from now.”

A system like that could help with employee retention, he said, pointing out that larger cities have started “poaching” small-town officers – usually after the small town has paid for the officer’s training and certification.

“If we don’t get competitive, it’s going to cost more money to train a new person,” Peters said. “In my view, it’s better to pay (our officers) to where we don’t worry about losing them – or being in poverty level to where they have to work two jobs.”

Lander Mayor Monte Richardson said it might be appropriate to consider similar structural salary adjustments city-wide.

“We can’t just look at one area – we have to look at the whole city,” he said.

Other council members agreed, asking staff to prepare a list of salaries for review at a future meeting.

“Let’s have that be a priority for this coming year,” Councilmember Missy White said.

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