Forks agrees to increase pay for police officers

Raises will be in 2025 and 2026

FORKS — The Forks City Council has approved unanimously a 2024-2027 collective bargaining agreement with police officers and with corrections employees that sets new base ranges for wages and include raises of 3 percent in 2025 and in 2026.

City attorney Rod Fleck said at the Monday council meeting that funding for the increases was created by not filling an open sergeant position in the police department for the duration of the contract, an idea Police Chief Mike Rowley had proposed. (Rowley was unable to attend the meeting.)

Fleck said wages in the agreement were comparable to other cities of Forks’ size, but less than that paid by its direct competitors — primarily county sheriffs’ departments and the tribal police.

Peninsula News reported in December that Rowley was the only uniformed police officer in Forks after a former officer left the previous month. In addition to its own department, Forks has memoranda of understanding with other jurisdictions to provide law enforcement.

The Forks Police Department has found recruiting to fill open positions challenging, but it is in the process of reviewing candidates, Fleck said.

“We are trying to raise the wage by roughly 8 to 10 percent, and we came pretty close,” he said. “We would argue we might have a better benefit package in a lot of ways than those organizations. But that’s the best we can do within our revenue.”

Bargaining began prior to the 2024 budgeting process and the groups reached an agreement about a week and a half ago, Fleck said.

As a matter procedure, the council approved unanimously an ordinance for the new salary ranges, which were not part of the 2024 budget when it was approved.

The city has continued to benefit from lodging tax receipts, city clerk and treasurer Caryn DePew said, having collected $528,455 through October. (The city receives the revenue two months after it is collected, so it will not have a total for all of 2023 until next month.) That was about 24 percent more than Forks collected for all of 2022 and 43 percent more than all of 2021.

DePew said Forks’ lodging tax receipts were impressive when compared to what larger cities on the Olympic Peninsula had collected: Sequim ($559,707), Port Townsend ($640,736) and Port Angeles ($1,320,198).

Fleck said he had been asked why the city could not use lodging taxes to help fund the police department. According to state law, those monies can only be applied to activities, operations and expenditures intended to increase tourism and any other use is illegal, he said.

The city will send out a revised request for bids for a new wastewater treatment plant after the previous round came in over its original estimate, public works director Paul Hampton said. Skyrocketing construction costs were behind the escalating prices for all municipal works, Hampton said.

“We’re thinking we’re probably short about $400,000 to $600,000,” even after scaling back the scope of the project, Hampton said.

Fleck said he was exploring different options for financing, preferably a grant, so the city would not have to take on debt. The possibility of increasing utility rates was raised, but council members were not ready to consider that a viable option.

In other council news:

• Forks Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lissy Andros reported that 2023 was the third-busiest year on record at the Forks Visitor Information Center, with 65,506 people coming through its doors.

Andros encouraged individuals and groups interested in participating in Hickory Shirt Heritage Days, Sept. 21-Oct. 19, to attend a planning and informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at City Hall Council Chambers, 500 E. Division St.

• The city will conduct a public hearing on renewal of its contract with West Waste & Recycling at its Feb. 12 council meeting. The hearing will begin about 10 minutes into the meeting.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at 360-425-2345, ext. 50583, or by email at paula.hunt@peninsulanews.us.

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