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Castle Rock tables vote to raise chief's pay

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The Castle Rock City Council has tabled a decision to increase the base salary of Police Chief Bob Heuer as a vote to do so was tied with only four council members present at the time.

Discussed during the Council's April 13 meeting, a motion to increase Heuer's salary by 12 percent failed to pass after receiving just two affirmative votes from Council Members Earl Queen and Lee Kessler, while Council Members Ellen Rose and Ray Teter voted against it. Because the matter concerned city finances, Mayor Paul Helenberg was unable to cast a tie-breaking vote, as per state policy, while Council Member Mike Davis was absent and is expected to weigh in on the matter at the council's April 27 meeting.

The issue of the chief's pay had first come up during the council's March 23 meeting, at which time Kessler informed officials of an email he had received from Heuer describing how Heuer has learned, after taking some accumulated vacation time, his sergeant earns more while acting as chief than Heuer does in his regular duties as chief.

City Clerk Ryana Covington explained this is due to language in the police department's union contract, which provides for a temporary pay increase of 15 percent when an officer acts as chief for more than a few days, bringing the sergeant's hourly rate from $34.50 to $39.68, while Heuer's salary is $36.30 per hour. Covington also noted, while the union contract defines such provisions and pay rates for department staff, Heuer's salary, as department head, is dictated directly by the council.

After tabling the issue March 23 to allow officials time to conduct research, Kessler motioned April 13 to increase the chief's salary 12 percent to $40.66 per hour, which was the specific increase requested of the council by Heuer. Since becoming chief in 2001, Heuer has received such an increase just once before in 2007 when the council approved a 14.6 percent raise in his base pay, while his other years as chief have seen increases between 2 and 4 percent, except for 2010, 2011 and 2013, which saw no increase.

Heuer told the council, while it felt awkward asking for a raise this way, he believes he can show examples of his department's performance over the years to justify an increase, while also noting, according to information published by the Association of Washington Cities, he is currently the lowest-paid police chief in Cowlitz County, despite being the longest-serving chief in the county.

When discussing the potential increase, Teter said he is not necessarily opposed to a greater base rate for Heuer's position, but was not comfortable making a change in the budget half-way through the year and said the council should consider looking at the issue this winter when planning their 2016 budget.

Kessler responded he is concerned the difference in income between full-time chief and acting chief is not a matter that should be allowed to linger and noted, with a surplus reported in the department's budget last year, there is financial justification to approve the increase. (In the interest of transparency, it is worth noting Kessler is a reserve officer within Heuer's department, though the council has previously affirmed by passage of a resolution they do not believe this poses a conflict of interest.)

After the tie vote was cast, the motion failed and the matter is expected to appear again on the council's April 27 agenda. Also expected to be discussed are potential increases to the salaries of the city's other department heads, including Covington and Public Works Director Dave Vorse, who have also gone without significant raises during the last eight years.

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