City Proposes Pay Raises For All, Police Refocus on Initial Request
“Organization-wide” was the phrase of choice on the city side at Wednesday’s Meet and Confer meeting in City Hall, as the police department’s pay raise saga endured yet another lengthy episode of dissension over objectives.
The discussions, now in their eighth month, center on a request for a pay raise made by the San Angelo Coalition of Police (SACOP), which would bring officer salaries in line with comparable, benchmark cities.
Since the discussions began, the City of San Angelo (COSA) and SACOP have been in discussions and negotiations over funding mechanisms, the PD’s heftily overdrawn budget, and city needs, including capital improvement projects addressing things like infrastructure, and water.
At a previous meeting, SACOP presented their ambition of “just being average”, and stated that their goal is to be compensated within 3 percent of the average salaries of their 13 benchmark cities. City staff responded with a proposal that was denied by SACOP, who alleged that the proposal did nothing to address the department’s retention problem and that it would further not make an impact on salary issues due to an adjustment of the midpoints in their ranges.
The previously presented proposal was intended to be a one-year plan that would have to be re-assessed on an annual basis, however both parties agreed that a multi-year plan would be more desirable.
Wednesday’s agenda picked up with discussion of multi-year pay scenarios presented by COSA Chief Financial Officer/Assistant City Manager Michael Dane. The presentation, however, wasn’t exactly what the members of SACOP had anticipated.
“We wanted to start by rehashing some perspectives on pay issues,” Dane began. “As we got ready to work on this, we don’t just have pay issues in the police department. We’ve talked about an organization-wide perspective…You’re bringing to us the issue of pay in the police department, but the issue of pay is one of the major issues for this organization. It was an issue before oil got hot, and it’s even more of an issue now.”
In order to begin considering increasing salaries, city staff need to be aware of what their capacity for spending is, Dane continued, and they also have to consider priorities. At the moment, obvious priorities for the City of San Angelo include water and infrastructure projects, which include repair on some of the City’s beyond deteriorated roads and a botched sealcoat job. Other priorities will have to be set by City Council.
As far as retention and recruitment, Dane says, the problem is not just felt in the police department, but citywide. As example, Dane named four positions in his department, one of which is vacant and two of which have held their positions for less than a year. “So, we understand your difficulty,” he said. “We think we do need to approach it from an organization-wide perspective. We need to determine a common goal, develop a strategy for reaching that goal and determine a pace for arriving there.”
The Organization-Wide Perspective
The Meet and Confer meeting prior to Wednesday was held on Feb. 26. At that meeting, City staff expressed an interest in setting up a spreadsheet that would enable them to input pay raise percentages and compare the dollar amount with the funds available in the current and future budgets for funding.
The idea was that having a tool that would illustrate the possibilities would make the negotiation process simpler for all involved by enabling the group to examine different increases over different periods.
Wednesday, staff had prepared two spreadsheets for their presentation to SACOP, the first of which outlined the general fund budget and it’s expenditures, including payroll and benefits, operations and maintenance expenses, and capital. Below the deductions was the sum remaining that could be applied to things such as pay raises, which had, up until recently, been put into a rainy day fund. That rainy day fund was almost entirely depleted in 2013, when Council approved using those funds to subsidize the City healthcare plan.
With an idea of the funding available for this year, the finance team estimated the general fund budget total and expenditures for several additional years, based upon previous inflation rates across the U.S., at a rate of 2.23 percent. These estimates served as crude outlines for what the City’s budget may look like in future years.
In addition, identical breakdowns for 17 additional city departments were included in order to show which funds are increasing or decreasing in profit, and at what rate.
The available funding was then compared in a second spreadsheet, which allowed percentages of pay increases to be applied across the board to every City department. The result yielded that at 2 percent, the cost of implementing an organization-wide pay raise far exceeded the balance remaining in the general fund after expenses.
Having heard the City’s presentation and seen the outcomes of various percentages, Sergeant Korby Kennedy, President of SACOP, appeared exasperated.
“My first question is why are we here? Why are we sitting in this room?” he asked, clearly not satisfied that the City’s presentation had meet his expectations of focus. “Are we here to just learn about the process…I guess a better question would be why do you think my team is here…in the entire process?”
“I’ll have to think about that,” Dane said, following a brief and contemplative pause.
At this point Valenzuala answered, questioning Kennedy’s obvious irritation with tones of his own. “You didn’t feel that this information was important as far as moving forward in negotiations and knowing what we’re dealing with? Is this something that you don’t think is pertinent to you at this point? That’s my question to you.”
“I understand the organizational perspective. I get it. What I don’t get is why I am here,” Kennedy reiterated, adding that from an overview standpoint the information was valuable, but implicating that he didn’t feel it pertained to the police department’s pay raise request.
“Well, I think for you to achieve long-term success in this process, you’re going to need to be part of an overall strategy,” Dane responded. “In the past we have not heard a strong sentiment from Council that they want to address only pay of the police department. I think to the extent that we can develop solutions that address pay and benefits issues across the organization, you have the best probability for success in both the short and the long term.
“If your question is oriented around why an organization-wide perspective, I think that’s why,” he continued. “Because ultimately, we think that the pattern over the long term from elected officials is going to be ‘we don’t just want to address pay and benefits in one area, we want them addressed across the organization.’”
City Council meets with the City staff once a year to outline priorities, Dane said, but the meeting has not yet taken place this year. At a recent evening Council meeting, council members did assign priority to a number of proposed capital improvement projects, such as streets, infrastructure and water, however payroll has yet to be mentioned as one of them. This could be because the entities haven’t met yet to discuss it.
According to the regulations governing Meet and Confer, members of SACOP are not permitted to negotiate with Council or staff outside the Meet and Confer committee on an item that is currently on the table. Likewise, City staff cannot negotiate with the 174 members of the police department, those negotiations have to be made with SACOP.
For this reason, staff maintained that when the briefing with Council on the police pay raise priority does take place, only City Manager Valenzuela will be able to present the information. Should Kennedy speak on the matter, it could be seen as negotiation, a violation of the rules.
Kennedy said that he would like to be able to speak for his organization at the meeting, stating that he can better explain his needs and requests than someone from another department. Wednesday there was no decision reached on whether or not this would be possible, and a goal for when to hold the meeting was not established.
As to whether Council would place priority on pay raises, Dane said, “I would anticipate that addressing pay across the organization would be one of the priorities, but until they tell us, it’s just an assumption. We’ve heard clear communication about water, clear communication about streets, clear communication about drainage issues, we actually have a resolution communicating a goal to reduce the property tax rate…” But no speak of personnel.
The last mention of a police department raise in anyone’s memory was in 2008, when the objective was to rise by 5 percent annually. Back then, steps were eliminated in the officer pay scale to address recruitment issues, with a promise to focus on retention in the next round. That round never gained ground and the issue was not voted upon. In the second year, the City didn’t have the funds to raise the pay 5 percent to 90, so instead it was brought up to 87.5 percent. After that there was no raise, meaning the City fell behind.
Perceived Personnel Unimportance
The method with which priority is assigned has given some the impression that City employees are not a priority when it comes to allocating funds. Kennedy spoke to this problem after having asking staff to outline areas they deem as important.
“When I asked what your priorities were, you said water, public safety, and pay, but then you also said capital improvement projects, other projects, water, streets, and then your last mention was pay and personnel,” he said. “That’s the problem that we’ve seen and that’s why we are here. Because we know—we have historically known—over the last 12-15 years that your personnel have not been a priority and we want to make that a priority.”
“How do we make that a priority?” Dane responded. “It can’t just be one year. There have been years where the number one priority has been pay increases and yet we’re still in this issue.”
Breaking the silence he held in the room, Sergeant John Rodriguez stated, “I’ve been here 31 and in my view, I’ve never seen it. Never, in 31 years.”
Dane contended that measured in dollars, there have been years where the greatest increase in marginal revenue was assigned to pay raises, however upheld that it was Council’s duty to assign priority as they are the ultimate deciding factor in what passes and what gets shot down.
“You’ve got two in the room, ask them what their priorities are,” Kennedy said, looking at Councilmen Rodney Fleming and Don Vardeman.
“I don’t want to put them on the spot,” Dane replied. But Kennedy wouldn’t let it pass. He maintained that he was merely seeking opinion, not to engage in any negotiations, and repeated his request.
After City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Human Resources Director Lisa Marley had cleared it with City Attorney Lysia Bowling, Fleming spoke first to his opinion on the matter.
“You know what my thought is on this deal,” Fleming began. “My opinion, one of seven [on the Council], is that police and fire are two separate things from just the general worker for the City. I can appreciate you wanting to give everybody a 5 percent raise, but the way I would have looked at is I would have given those two organizations more of a raise. That’s my opinion. I would like to give everybody a huge raise, but when I look at policemen and firemen, they’re different. These guys can die, whereas the guy working out on the street the odds are very, very low. Every car they approach they can be killed.”
“Every time they’re on the street they can be hit and killed, our guys that are working the streets. And we’ve had it happen,” Marley spoke up in defense.
“You can do the what-ifs on that all day, but you know what the odds are, that it’s way higher for a policeman or a fireman to be injured or killed,” Fleming contended. “I will value these guys over myself. They are just more valuable to me, and that is my opinion. Do the benchmark cities give all their staff all the same raise every year? I find that hard to believe.”
Valenzuela reiterated that the goal was to make sure the entire staff was being paid market value, across the board.
Councilman Don Vardeman, who is a certified peace officer and a certified firefighter spoke next. “I went through both of the academies, I know how much training it takes, I know how hard work it is, I understand working at nights and…I do support that there be a definite pathway. But, I also understand—and I think that’s one of the things the council tried to address a little bit this last year—is that if you’ve got a worker that’s getting called out at 2:00 in the morning in 30-degree weather to fix a water main break, that’s important too,” he said.
Vardeman said the goal should be to seek consistency with Council by presenting a plan that can be implemented on a repeat basis for the term of the contract, rather than deal with ups and downs that ultimately lead nowhere.
“I think what we have to hit as a Council and as a city is some sort of a point to where we can get as much as we can for what we need to be doing. I personally don’t think that we need to be paying for dog parks and some of the things that we do over our employees,” he said. “I know the ups and downs, but I think what we need is consistency. We don’t need to have it where we get a really good raise one year…and then we don’t get hardly anything for a long time. I think if we’re consistent you can see that light at the end of the tunnel… “
Police Pay Proposal
Following a caucus of the two parties, the SACOP members returned with a revised, three-year proposal. In the first year, SACOP proposes to remove two line officer steps to decrease the range before advancement and bring the midpoints of those ranges closer to the midpoints of benchmark cities.
San Angelo currently has 15 pay steps for officers, whereas Abilene, by comparison, tops out in six years, meaning they reach top pay in a shorter amount of time. For this reason, SACOP is proposing to shorten the range, while also proposing to raise salaries up to 85 percent of benchmarks in year one.
Years two in three would then see an incremental increase, bringing pay up to 92.5 percent in year two and 100 percent in year three.
The City had previously proposed cutting two steps for lieutenants and sergeants to put greater separation between ranks, however the SACOP proposal has not retained this omission, the reason being retention.
CLEAT representative John Kerr named retention as one of the biggest challenges the department faces, as has been reiterated in previous meetings. While an issue with incentive to promote was also identified, that issue was second to maintaining a trained and capable staff.
Having heard SACOP’s proposal, staff and the coalition agreed that the next step would be to request guidance from Council, and to work up a rough proposal together. Spokespersons for the City and SACOP, Marley and Kennedy, expressed after the meeting that they have positive feelings about the proposal and how it will help them move forward.
The next Meet and Confer meeting is scheduled for April 2 at 9:00 a.m. in City Hall.
For more on the pay raise saga, check out the following links.
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