Sunshine Week: Concord police pay, overtime shoot up during pandemic and that’s no accident



Monitor staff
Published: 3/18/2021 5:36:39 PM

COVID-19 brought broad changes for the Concord Police Department. Calls for service dropped 40% in the early weeks, while parking fines – like commerce in general – took a hit.

But a year later, one factor for the department has gone up: payroll and overtime.

The increase isn’t by accident. Concord’s City Council decided to give the Police Department nearly $1 million extra last June, cranking up pay in the middle of a pandemic and as national protests for police reform grew one month after the death of George Floyd.

This spring, as the city begins designing its next budget, those spending increases have already made their mark. Salary records reviewed by the Monitor indicate that payroll at the police department grew nearly twice as fast in 2020 as in other city departments. And recorded overtime swelled at the department even as city-wide overtime decreased.

Between the calendar year of 2019 and 2020, total police payroll – including wages and overtime – went up 8.8%, rising from $8 million to $8.7 million. Overall, citywide payroll increases averaged 5%.

Overtime grew by $50,000 over that year’s time, from $1.22 million to $1.27 million, salary records indicate. That represents a 4% increase even as city-wide overtime decreased overall during the pandemic, by about 1%.

In addition, increased contributions to the state retirement system will boost how much the city has to pay on top of those wages by close to another $750,000 or more.

While the retirement wrinkle was unforeseen, the pay increases were by design. Last spring, City Manager Tom Aspell advocated for the boosted police budget, arguing that the city’s pay had not kept up with market rates, and vacancies on the department were becoming harder to fill. The budget increase was explicitly tied to higher pay above and beyond contractual raises.

Mayor Jim Bouley and members of the council agreed.

“I think the decisions that were made around the police budget last year were all good decisions that will directly benefit the property taxpayer in the future,” said Bouley in an interview Thursday.

The increases also came at a delicate time for police departments across the country – one month after the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and just as calls for financial reform of police departments cropped up nationally and in Concord.

Plus, they were approved at an uncertain time for Concord and other cities and towns, as the impact of the virus on budgets was still unknown.

More police spending

Concord is not alone in seeking an increase in police funding. Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget proposal, delivered to the Legislature in February, also would direct more money to New Hampshire State Police and the criminal justice system, even as allocations for general government and education are suggested to be cut.

An analysis by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, found that Sununu’s budget for Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023 includes a 10% increase for “justice and public protection” programs – a jump of just over $100 million.

But the “general government” category of programs is being cut about 8% overall, and the education category is seeing about a 2% cut. That evens out to about $50 million less in proposed funding in each of those categories.

Part of the increases to public safety in Sununu’s budget go to new initiatives meant to increase the accountability of police officers, following protests about the death of George Floyd in 2020.

For instance, the governor’s budget contains a $1 million matching fund to help towns and cities purchase body cameras, and funds a new independent misconduct office to oversee all New Hampshire departments, as well as a new Public Integrity Unit in the Attorney General’s office.

Some of that 10% increase can also be accounted by proposed reforms to the adult parole board, which would include a full-time paid position for a chairperson, a digitization of operations and an increase in funds for membership.

Much of that proposed statewide increase in funding comes from federal grant programs. Sununu’s proposed budget is currently being debated by the Legislature; the House will make amendments before sending it to the House later.

An expanding force

In Concord, the increased police payroll also comes amid growth in personnel, as the city had more active officers in 2020 than the year before.

Bouley said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“Thirty years ago, we had a model in the city of Concord of eight police officers who were on the streets, one sergeant, and one lieutenant,” he said. “Today, we have the exact same model of eight police officers on the street, one sergeant, and one lieutenant. Thirty years, we have not changed that.”

The increases, he said, were in areas such as domestic violence investigation, computer crimes, and school and community resources over the years.

Bouley pointed to reforms the city has made and is making in response to concerns raised over police bias and accountability during the 2020 summer demonstrations. The city has made its anti-chokehold policy transparent on the department’s website, it is continuing reviews of potential further policy changes via a working group, and the council has approved programs for anti-racial bias training for employees in the department and beyond, he noted.

But that movement in the direction of reform doesn’t mean the mayor supports defunding police, he said.

There are other factors to consider when looking at last year’s police department budget increase, Bouley added. The city negotiated a revised health care plan with the city’s police union that contained higher deductibles, which is projected to save money in the long term, he noted.

And just because the salaries have been increased doesn’t mean the city will necessarily be paying at the same level every year, Bouley argued; turnover by employees over time could lead to some savings as the officers entering the system will start at a lower level on the payscale.

All boats rising

Last year’s increase in pay for police officers accompanies a broader one citywide. In aggregate, total payroll increased 5% from 2019 to 2020, rising from $33 million to $34.8 million.

High-ranking employees received pay increases, too.

City Manager Tom Aspell, by far the city’s highest-paid employee, made $210,815 in 2020, after being paid $200,828 in 2019 – a 5% increase. Suzi Pegg, the city’s economic development director, made $111,414 in 2019 and $119,528 in 2020, a 7.3% jump.

Aspell did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Deputy City Manager Brian LeBrun said the proposed city budget for next year is still being developed and couldn’t be discussed.

Bouley noted the next budget is expected to be tight. Increased contributions to the New Hampshire retirement system are projected to cost the city more than a million dollars that must be offset elsewhere, Bouley said, which could necessitate savings in other areas.

“I think this is going to be a very difficult budget year. I think there’s going to be some hard choices – policy choices. Sometimes with these tough decisions it allows you to really take a good hard look and review everything you have, and I’m sure we’ll be doing that for everything.”

See below for a searchable database of Concord city salaries for 2020.

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