OXFORD — Selectwoman Samantha Hewey said the town must offer competitive wages to its police officers if they hope to continue to draw qualified candidates to the pool.

The reality, she said, is that Oxford offers only about $2 more to its starting police officers than the minimum starting pay for some WalMart jobs.

“How can we become a better employer and more marketable,” she asked her fellow board members at the December 6 board meeting.

The issue was raised by Hewey when Selectman Scott Hunter brought up the issue of filling a vacancy in the department.

The question prompted the broader question by Hewey, who after attending a recent job fair realized that Walmart was offering jobs at $16 to $17 per hour. The starting pay for a police officer in Oxford is $18.87 for academy trained first-year candidates.

“You’ve got to make it so there is a reason for coming,” agreed Captain Ricky Jack who attended the meeting in the absence of Chief Michael Ward to address the new hire issues.

Town Manager Butch Asselin, who previously worked almost 40 years in law enforcement – including as police chief in Skowhegan and Houlton – said the problem with attracting candidates is not new.

“This has always been happening,” he said.

Where one police chief might be offered $56,000,  another in southern Maine could be paid $130,000, he said.

“You can’t compete,” Asselin said of the salary differences between regions and high and low populated cities and towns.

In addition to pay, contracts may differ in terms of benefits such as additional pay for night shift differential, court time, educational stipends, specialty pay or overtime – all factors that can significantly increase an officer’s pay. For lateral applicants, some departments recognize prior municipal law enforcement.

Some towns, like Norway, pays its employee’s health insurance at 100 percent. (If there is a spouse or children under the plan, Norway pays 60 percent and the employee pays 40 percent.) Other towns pay significantly less of the employees health plan.

In Norway, Police Chief Rob Federico said the current police contract, which expires on June 30, 2019, calls for a salary as of June 30, 2018 of $18.17 per hour for an entry level patrol officer with no prior experience or full time certification.

“Academy trained and a no experience officer are (paid at) different rates,” said Federico. “Entry level, no prior experience and no full time certification is $18.17 per hour. Academy certified full time is usually at least one year of  experience which is $19.19. But a full time certified officer could be started at any of our wage steps at my discretion based on prior  experience. The highest step is $23.73 for a patrol officer. This does not include any officers of rank or specialty.”

In Paris, where  negotiations continue on a contract that expired in June of 2016, the starting pay is $18.53 for a patrolman with up to one year experience.

However larger cities offer higher starting salaries.

In the city of Portland, for example, police officers with zero to three years experience will receive  $23.87 as of January 6, 2019, according to their contract. The City of Bangor is currently advertising for pre-academy training starting salaries  beginning at $832.00 (or $20.80 per hour) to $849.20 per week depending on experience and qualifications.

In Saco, the contract, which expired June 30 of this year, calls for a starting hourly salary for patrolman in 2017 of $23.25. In York, the  contract that expired on June 30, 2018 called for a starting pay of $21.19 for a patrol officer.

Negotiations for a new police union contract in Oxford are expected to get underway soon. The contract expires on June 30, 2019, according to information from Asselin.

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