Search for police chief gets tougher

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By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Sonora's a great place to live, but it takes more than that to catch a new police chief.

With the state budget crisis draining city funds, luring a new chief and paying competitive salaries is getting tougher.

In November, Police Chief Duane Ellis announced he'll retire in July. Advertisements for his replacement went out on Monday, playing up the small-town qualities of Sonora to attract a new chief.

Ellis, who has been with the force for almost 30 years, makes about $77,000 per year, said City Administrator Greg Applegate.

For his replacement, the city has budgeted a pay range of $60,320 to $76,960, depending on qualifications. If someone with Ellis' experience gets the job, he or she would get top-end pay, but then only be eligible for cost-of-living increases.

"There are incentives, but in terms of a step increase, no," Applegate said. "If we hired them at the highest level, they would be stepped out."

In comparison, Oakdale, a city with about 31?2 times Sonora's population, hired a new police chief last fall for $106,200 per year. Many Central Valley cities make open positions even more attractive by letting their chiefs work three 12-hour days, allowing them to live in Sonora and commute to better-paying jobs elsewhere.

The situation will worsen if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget passes in July, Applegate said.

Under the governor's proposal, the city would shift part of its property-tax revenue to schools. Problem is, the city only gets 12.6 percent of local property taxes, and to give any more to the schools would cost the city $25,710, Applegate said.

That loss would make hiring and retaining officers and a chief even harder.

The schools get 54 percent of property-tax revenue now.

In some places, such money shifting has caused turf wars between local governments and schools.

"It's really unfortunate, it's like (the state) has thrown a bone out to local government and it's almost like they pit one of us against the other," Applegate said. "I'm very pleased that none of us entered into it."

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The Union Democrat
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