Retired SAPD Sergeant Speaks Out on Officer Pay DilemmaOpinion
SAN ANGELO, TX — First of all, let me say that I am not disappointed in what the city staff has done in regards to the pay contract with the police officers here in San Angelo. I’m just not surprised by what they are doing. I know, as a past employee, that the staff’s job is to be as fiscally responsible with the taxpayer’s money and still run the city as efficiently as possible. That said, I would like to address some comments and issues brought up by the city, the officers and by several citizens.
First off, I must give you some history of how things were done before Meet and Confer. For many years, the San Angelo Police Officers Association would gather the next years salaries of our comparable sister cities and we would meet individually with the council members, showing them how far behind we were, and how much further behind we were going to be each year. Each year, the Chief, whoever that was at the time, would argue at budget meetings that we needed raises. Sometimes we got raises, sometimes we didn’t, but, every time we got a raise, most city employees got a raise. What we never realized is that our system was flawed because it has never been the council that sets the budget; it has always been the staff who sets it. The council could say we want raises for the employees, but if the staff didn’t put it in the budget proposal brought to the council, it never happened. That is how things seem to be done still today.
When we started Meet and Confer, the first contract was a one year contract. It was a “let’s try this out and see how it goes” kind of idea. The second contract was supposed to be a three year contract. The first two years rocked along pretty well, but then the city came to the officers and said, “We don’t have enough money to pay you everything, and the only way we could possibly find the money would be to fire enough other city employees to equal the needed amount of money. What we would like to do instead is to extend the contract an extra year and we’ll use what we have to give you a one time stipend this year. The officers didn’t want any city employee to lose their job, so they agreed to the stipend.
This last contract was supposed to be a four-year contract and was supposed to be a little more aggressive at getting the officers to that magical 95 percentile spot by the end of the contract. What most people don’t know is that in order to do that, the city said it would have to freeze each officer in his/her present pay step over the course of the entire contract. What that means is that an officer at step four at the beginning of the contract is still a step four, four years later. In actuality that means that officer is not presently at 89 or 90 percent; rather he/she is presently at about 81 percent. All of this because his steps never increased in an effort to allow the city to get all city employees to that magical 95 percentile mark. By the way, at the beginning of all this, COSA had twenty five pay steps for officers, which has been reduced through the contract to 13 pay steps, still far more than most other cities.
And let’s look at that 95 percentile a little closer. The city is quick to say that they are working at getting all employees to that mark, but what they neglect to say is what that mark really is. They gather the pay scales of 15 comparable size cities and add each position up. All the entry levels, the officer step levels, the Sergeant levels, the Lieutenant levels, and then divide that by 15 and come out with an “average.” What they are trying to do is to get our employees to 95 percent of the “average.”
So, here we are in year four of the four-year contract. The first three years seemed okay, but last summer the city went to the officers and said they didn’t have all the money to pay the raises. In fact, no city employee was going to get a raise. What they had was about $317,000.00 and a proposal. They wanted to use that money to pay down insurance costs for all the city employees. They didn’t want to not give a raise and raise the insurance premiums a large amount, so they wanted to reduce the amount by using that money for all the employees. Again, the officers, wanting to do right by all the employees, said yes. The city said they would be able to revisit raises by April.
That brings us to where we are now. They only had a portion and wanted to pay a one time stipend again. You see the problem with that is, that one time stipend doesn’t add to the contract money. The officers would still be at the present step in pay and that pay amount would not be reflected in their paychecks, but would be for tax purposes. And, you can just bet that when the city came back to renegotiate the next contract, the starting point would be where the officers are now, not where they should be now. With the extensions and the freezes, some officers could very well be as many as five or six steps behind where they should be at this point in time.
The officers have negotiated for raises, and in doing so, have given up certain things and have taken on other things in order to get those raises. The rest of the city employees have negotiated nothing, given up nothing and taken on nothing extra, but they have benefited from our contracts with the city each year. The officers have always been told that the council wanted all the employees to reach that 95 percentile mark and the officers have done their part over and over to allow the city to reach that mark for all the employees. All the officers want is to be treated as valued employees, to be treated fairly.
Now, the city is saying that sales tax revenue is down for the last 24 months. Compared to what? The immediate 24 months before that? If so, I can believe that, but again, let me remind everyone, when we started this contract, the oil business was booming but that boom has stalled. Yes the sales tax revenue has decreased in the last 24 months from the previous 24 months. My question is this, why didn’t the staff set some of that money aside for future pay raises? Surely not every single penny from the sales tax revenue was used just on raises. Knowing you have a contract, a future expense for several years, wouldn’t it be fiscally responsible to set aside money each year for the next year’s expenses?
I have always said that employees are always the “left overs” according to city staff. Whatever is “left over,” after all the bills are paid, is what the employees get. Sometimes it’s something; sometimes it’s nothing. The staff and council can say that they want our employees to reach that 95 percentile mark, but seems to me the staff is doing little to actually reach that mark.
Lastly, this idea that the city doesn’t want to “saddle” future councils with the burden of future raises and expenses doesn’t sit well with me. Each time the city has entered into a contract with the officers, the sitting council has approved it for however long that contract is supposed to last. I dare say that the council that approved the second contract was not the exact same sitting council at the end of the contract. Same thing for this present contract or any future contracts, if there are any.
What I foresee happening is another mass exodus from the department. Every single agency in the state, in the nation for that matter, is having trouble hiring officers in this day and age. Many of our young officers can go to other cities with their training and start off making more money and may only have to do a smaller amount of work for it. The San Angelo Police Department has hired enough officers over the course of the last 10 or 12 years to staff over two police departments. We constantly lose officers to other agencies, mainly because of pay. This last contract was working to slow or even stop that exodus, but if this contract fails, there will be little reason for the younger officers to stay here, and no reason for the older, more experienced officers to stay. Retirements are going to go up, loss of our young officers will increase, and recruitment will once again become a revolving door.
It’s your tax dollars at work. How do you want those dollars to work for you, to keep our officers or just to train more officers so they can go to other agencies?
Note: John E. Rodriguez, a retired sergeant from the San Angelo Police Department, a former city employee of almost 33 years, and a friend of many of the officers still at the department wished to express his opinion about the current issue between the city and the police officers.