City News

UPDATED: Council approves $6.3 million police union contract, votes to change the name of Salem’s airport 

On Monday, the Salem City Council unanimously approved a new three-year contract for police union members that will give officers a 9% raise in July. 

Councilors also unanimously decided to change the name of the Salem Municipal Airport to the Salem – Willamette Valley Airport to spruce up the 95-year-old airport, a change that’s intended to increase tourism to the area. 

City councilors Vanessa Nordkye and Jose Gonzalez were absent, making the unanimous vote seven votes including the mayor. 

The council held a public hearing on the proposed city budget for the next year. The budget will be adopted at a meeting on June 24. 

Council votes to raise city fees, holds budget hearing

Salem residents will pay more to park in downtown garages or take an ambulance to the hospital, and developers will spend more on permits and inspections under a series of fee increases the council approved Monday night.

The increases are designed to offset market adjustment costs and include fees for ambulance contracting and fire safety, building permits and inspections, parking permits, and apartment licensing among others. 

The increased fees will be included in the city’s final budget, which calls for spending $728 million over the next year.

Among the fee increases is a large jump in the ambulance transport fee that’s billed to patients who are taken to the hospital. The new fee would be $2,409, up from the current $1,927 — a 25% increase.

Councilors on Monday held a public hearing to discuss the budget.

A number of people gave public testimony in support of continued funding to Salem’s parks and libraries, two points of contention during discussions earlier on in the budget process. 

The city’s budget committee ultimately voted to restore money that had been cut to pay for library services, splash pads, summer parks programs and a graffiti abatement position in the police department.

Councilors ultimately adopted a $2 monthly increase in the fee that people pay for parking permits in downtown garages. An alternative parking garage fee increase of $9 per month was recommended by the city’s budget committee.

Evan Manvel, a member of the budget committee, said during public testimony that the $9 a month would generate $78,000 a year, which he said is enough to pay a new staff member.  

While the idea of implementing a percentage increase for parking permits was floated as a compromise to a flat monthly increase of $9, Mayor Chris Hoy said he could not support such a large increase. 

“When we went forward with implementing paid downtown parking we committed to the community to engage in a public process before we did that and that process is going to start very soon but hasn’t started yet,” Hoy said. “I’m worried that we are going back on our commitment if we raise the fees by $9 before that happens.” 

Councilor Virginia Stapleton said she supports raising fees because the extra funds could help cover much needed costs for security in parking garages. 

“We are spending about $400,000 out of the general fund every year for security at the parking garages and that is coming straight out of the general fund, and we were not anticipating that,” Stapelton said. “With this, I hope that this helps alleviate that a little bit.” 

Councilors unanimously approved other agenda items Monday, Salem Police Department applications for violence reduction grants, a worker’s compensation claim and a governance assessment by consulting firm Moss Adams.

Original story published Friday, June 7:

On Monday, the Salem City Council will vote on a new three-year contract with the Salem Police Employee’s Union that would give officers a 9% raise in July. Councilors also will decide whether to rename the Salem Municipal Airport.

The council will also hold a public hearing on the proposed city budget for the next year. The budget will be adopted at a meeting later this month.

View the agenda here.

How to participate

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Monday, June 10, and will be both in-person at the council chambers, 555 Liberty St. S.E., and available to watch online. Members of the public can submit a comment for the budget hearing or on any other item on the council agenda.

To comment remotely, sign up on the city website between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday The meeting will be livestreamed on the YouTube in English and Spanish.

For written comments, email [email protected] before 5 p.m. on Monday, or submit on paper to the city recorder’s office at the Civic Center, 555 Liberty St. S.E., Room 225. Include a statement indicating the comment is for the public record.

Police union contract includes 13% raise over two years

On Monday, the council will vote on a three-year contract for Salem police officers, which would give employees a 9% raise in July and a 4% raise in July 2025.

The new contract would cost the city an additional $6.3 million over three years. A raise in the third year of the contract would be negotiated at a later date.

The contract covers about 160 police officers, union President Scotty Nowning said.

City spokeswoman Kathy Ursprung said the city’s Human Resources Department conducted a market study on police compensation which found pay for police in Salem is 6% behind comparable departments.

“The City of Salem is committed to recruiting and retaining a talented workforce, and these adjustments are essential to continue attracting skilled police officers,” Ursprung said.

Ursprung said the recommended budget that will be discussed Monday includes a 5% cost-of-living adjustment for unionized police employees. The additional 4% wage increase will be absorbed by the police general fund budget in 2025 by using savings the city anticipates from vacant positions.

The Salem Police Employee’s Union started negotiating the new three-year contract agreement on Dec. 6, 2023, a staff report from Krishna Namburi, deputy city manager. Union members ratified the agreement last month, and the new contract would cover the period between July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2027.

If approved, the new contract would also include enhanced life insurance benefits, and other incentives. The agreement would require employees to pay an extra $10 per pay period for health insurance costs. 

City to hold public hearing on next year’s budget recommendation 

The city council will hold a public hearing Monday to discuss the budget recommended by the city’s budget committee’s on May 8. The council is required to approve a budget by July 1.

The recommended budget includes funding for splash pads which are slated to open June 15, according to Ursprung.

The general fund budget, which pays for most city operations, is $188 million. Last month, the budget committee voted to restore one police department graffiti abatement position and library funding which had all been cut in the city manager’s proposal.

Families enjoy the splash pad at Riverfront City Park the afternoon of Aug. 14, 2023, during a stretch of hot days (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

Also in May, the budget committee approved in a split vote pulling roughly $518,000 from the city’s cultural and tourism fund to be used to keep splash pads, bathrooms and water fountains maintained and operational this summer, and also to continue programs like the Salem Kids Relays, and movies and concerts in Riverfront Park for another year.

The price tag for keeping the water running and maintaining the city’s parks was $422,000.

That will allow splash pads in Wes Bennett, Fairmount, Englewood, West Salem, Northgate and River Road parks to operate this summer.

The recommended budget includes an extra $96,000 for the parks programs.

“We recognize that the city faces difficult budget decisions in the coming year. However, our board strongly believes that the benefits of park access, recreation programs, and robust green space vastly outweigh the relatively low cost needed to provide these services to our entire community,” wrote Keith Norris, chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, in a letter submitted as public testimony.

Norris expressed his gratitude for the budget committee’s decision to restore a portion of the total funding for programs and services in city parks but said he is not completely satisfied. 

“The $422,000 of the proposed cuts restored for parks and the $96,000 restored for recreation still leave a 40% gap from parks current operating level,” Norris said. “The budget’s partial restoration is an important step but will not fully restore what the city has typically provided. Without the partial restoration, however, Salem residents will experience drastically diminished services in their parks.” 

City airport could become Salem – Willamette Valley Airport

To better market the 95-year-old Salem Municipal Airport, the city council will consider renaming it the Salem – Willamette Valley Airport.

The name change would help broadcast the Salem airport’s broader regional role as a centrally located hub for commercial, military, emergency response, and aviation services for the Willamette Valley, according to a staff report by Public Works Director Brian Martin. He said the new name would also help market the airport’s commercial airline services to those traveling to the Pacific Northwest. 

The Avelo Airlines gate was a busy place Thursday, Oct. 5, as passengers on the first flight from Salem to Las Vegas checked in. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

If councilors decide to change the name, McNary Field, the area containing the runways and taxiways will retain its historic name from 1944, and the airport’s identifier code will stay as SLE. 

The name change and the rebranding campaign for the airport will include revamped marketing, a new airport logo, and a new airport building and entranceway signs. The initiative would be paid for using the city’s airport funds and money saved from the airport terminal renovation effort, according to Martin. 

Police seek grants to help reduce violence 

The Salem Police Department is seeking the green light Monday to apply for various federal and state grants to help pay for violence reduction, community trust-building, and workforce recruitment and development, Chief Trevor Womack said. 

Salem police plans to apply for three separate grants, allotted over two years, from the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The grants range from $131,000 to $174,000.

The agency will also seek a U.S. Bureau of Justice grant of $1.9 million paid out over a three-year period to bolster the department’s community violence reduction initiative. 

Additionally the department will seek $184,000 from the United States Attorney’s Office District of Oregon to put toward reducing violent crime. If awarded, the grant would include funding for the local school district.  

Other items

  • The city council will vote to approve a $110,000 workers’ compensation claim for Gordon Albert, a retired Salem Police Department corporal, which would be paid through the city’s self-insurance fund. 
  • There will also be a public hearing on state revenue sharing funds on Monday, a program which allocates 14% of state liquor revenues to cities as discretionary funds. The program is included in the city’s budget recommendations. 
  • The council will vote to set fees and charges for a number of city services as part of the proposed city budget. 
  • The city council will decide on the approval of the Moss Adams Salem Governance Assessment which will allow the city to seek opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness in government and to simplify processes. It will also allow the city to improve community representation committees, boards, commission and neighborhood associations. 
  • Finally the council will receive an informational report on monthly purchasing activity for the current fiscal year. 

Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 503-335-7790.

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Joe Siess is a reporter for Salem Reporter. Joe joined Salem Reporter in 2024 and primarily covers city and county government but loves surprises. Joe previously reported for the Redmond Spokesman, the Bulletin in Bend, Klamath Falls Herald and News and the Malheur Enterprise. He was born in Independence, MO, where the Oregon Trail officially starts, and grew up in the Kansas City area.