Police Chief: Officers can’t afford to live in Lander

By Jeff Rebitski, Staff Writer

On Tuesday the 23rd, the Lander City Council met for a scheduled work session to discuss and debate several items. 

In a very candid discussion related to salary structure, The Chief of Police, Scott Peters told of the need for an amended salary structure for his department. “The problem is that with our current structure being so much lower than other departments around the state, once we get an officer trained, we risk losing them to another agency because of money. Combine that with the lack of affordable housing in Lander and there is little chance to retain highly qualified officers.” This has, according to the chief, become a real issue as he attempts to attract candidates to fill vacant positions in his department. “We simply can’t compete with other local agencies.” He went on to say that having an officer who needs to reside in Riverton or Hudson does little for the commitment that we want the officer to have for his or her own community here in Lander. We want them to live in the community they serve. 

Earlier in the meeting amended job descriptions was a discussion topic.. Apparently there may be room for advancement as employees retire and or change jobs as people already in the employ of The City of Lander could pick up the responsibility for the tasks previously done by the retiring employee. The Mayor has made some suggestions related to airport maintenance and inspection responsibilities while other council members made suggestions related to both hypothetical and upcoming retirements. 

The Mayor stipulated that in several changes of responsibilities, all positions report directly to him instead of the usual chain of command. 

When attention turned back to the council, ideas about modifying the step and grade levels as well as an across the board pay increase with a new and revised base salary were discussed and all of the involved city council members joined into the conversation. It being a work session, no decisions were made. 

Also discussed were the options of grant applications to cover some pay increases and purchasing of equipment. The final discussion stipulated that it could be done and voted on in the next fiscal year which begins in July. The Chief, Scott Peters, reminded the council that a base pay for officer I, should and needs to be $50,000 a year.

Increases in fundamental fees around Lander were discussed and several ideas were tabled. It looks as though a 5% increase in Water and Sewer services is imminent due to many unforeseen changes in infrastructure and simple “costs of doing business” increases.  “The replacement of a water storage tank that cost approximately $11,000,000 was unforeseen and is part of the ever aging infrastructure that must be maintained and in some cases replaced as the population density changes in certain areas,” said City engineer and director of public works, Lance Hopkins. There is a $6,000,000 upgrade that is needed to meet EPA requirements for the city. 

The community center is a hot topic as it has consistently lost money according to the city treasurer, Charri Lara. Over the course of a year, the city is losing approximately $70,000 on the building. We would like to see more rentals and perhaps more marketing towards destination weddings and other functions to help cover the costs of the building, which is a key economic driver to host conferences, meetings and such. 

Another source of loss for the city is the cemetery as they offer a significant discount to ensure people can afford the service. The council agreed that there may need to be some increases there as well. Mayor Richardson was cautiously optimistic as he reminded the council that next year, the taxes are going to increase significantly for everyone in Lander and that we can’t do everything at once. Currently, said City Engineer, Lance Hopkins, we have no Mill Levy’s to draw from for cemetery maintenance and services. It was mentioned that Riverton already used a 3 Mill levy to pay for these services. 

Councilwoman Missy White mentioned that there will have to be a future discussion related to the Ambulance service and WRTA Bus service, but that will be in a future work season.