City management and the San Angelo Police Department meet and confer team met in San Angelo City Hall Monday to hear and discuss the City’s proposed pay plan for the requested raise that the police department asked for recently. The raise, police say, will bring their pay levels in line with comparable, benchmark cities similar in size and other factors.
Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Michael Dane introduced the City’s proposal by emphasizing that pay structures for City departments are considered organization wide, based on each department’s need to fill vacancies, their abilities to offset the costs of pay increases, and other City priorities, such as capital improvements, tax rates and water issues.
After three meetings of discussions over the San Angelo Police Department’s budget and proposed cost-saving initiatives, Dane presented the City’s proposal on pay range adjustments.
“Our plan includes an adjustment of the midpoints of the ranges, including recruit, probationary PO, police officers, sergeants, lieutenants—moving the midpoints of those ranges to 85 percent of the survey data,” Dane said.
The Police Department had initially requested to be within 3 percent of the average of City Council-designated benchmark cities. In their presentation to City staff, the PD highlighted the average starting and top pay rates for the classes of officers that Dane mentioned across the 13 benchmark cities.
Police departments in the different cities have different pay scales, some showing a faster progression while others are slower. The San Angelo Police Department has 13 steps, each a year long, in order for an officer to achieve a promotion to sergeant. A sergeant must, under the current hierarchy, put in an additional nine years to progress to lieutenant, and a lieutenant must also serve nine years before consideration for further advancement is given.
Due to the multiple steps involved, the Police Department looked at the starting and ending pay for each ranked position when compiling their request. Dissatisfied with the City’s offer, Sergeant Korby Kennedy explained the department’s position.
“It (the midpoint raise) will move (the pay scale), but it doesn’t make us competitive because they’re getting there faster. If they’re midpoint is—and I’m using an arbitrary number because I don’t have it in front of me—three [years] and they top out at year six with $65,000, and I top out in eight (years) at $55,000, they’re getting more money faster and I’m getting less money slower,” Kennedy explained.
Kennedy said that for this reason the PD opted to focus on starting and ending salaries, to provide both an incentive to start and an incentive to remain employed with the SAPD. According to officers on the meet and confer team, officer retention has become a problem which is affecting their duty to protect and serve the public. The topic has become hot-button between the PD and the City staff, as each purports the opposite as it pertains to officer retention.
City of San Angelo Human Resources Director Lisa Marley expressed a lack of evidence that officer retention is currently a problem, while admitting the existence of the issue in the past, which she likened to a revolving door. Since approximately 2010, she said, empirical data do not support the idea of high turnover.
“Kennedy was speaking on retention and recruitment issues as a reason for not seeking midpoint increases,” she said, “even though the numbers don’t bear that out. The turnover isn’t very high, we have zero vacancies in PD, we have a list of 36 people that have already passed the civil service exam and the physical agility test and are waiting for a spot to open over there. There is no data that supports them saying that they keep losing people. That’s where we continue to have that difference of—I don’t know if it’s semantics…”
Marley referenced the previous pay period and stated that positions for chief and assistant chiefs, lieutenants, sergeants and police officers were all filled, with the exception of one officer, totaling 164 of 165 positions filled.
However, the meetings’ discussions on officer retention battle on without resolution. Kennedy cites additional aspects that affect the working schedules and overtime expenditures of the SAPD and their budget, noting a difference between numbers on paper and an actual and readily available workforce.
“I think we have a different philosophy on retention,” he said. “The difference between being fully staffed on paper and being fully staffed, having boots on the ground, isn’t the same thing. We have 10 officers in training right now, but it’s not officers that I can put on the street to go to work today. There’s training, there will be, for the better part of the year. On paper, we’re fully staffed, and that’s fine…but again, we have patrol shifts where we have guys that can’t take off because there’s nobody there to cover the streets.”
According to the SAPD, it takes approximately 18 months to train an officer from academy and all the other testing to background checks until they are able to operate as officers on city streets. Training costs the city money—loads of it—and when officers complete their training and move to a higher-paying municipality, the City of San Angelo foots the bill.
An SAPD slide presentation given at the first budget meeting shows the starting salary for a sergeant in San Angelo at $54,438. The average of the benchmark cities in 2013 lay at $66,456 per year, an annual difference of $12,018. As part of the City’s proposal, City staff suggested dropping the first-year salary step for sergeants and lieutenants, reducing the total number of years to top pay from nine to eight and putting further distance between police officer, sergeant and lieutenant pay. The draft of the pay proposal marked the new first step for sergeants up to $56,837, an annual increase of $2,399 or $199.91 a month. The sum still falls short of the average by $9,619 per year ($801.58 monthly), a sizable sum for starting pay.
Comparatively, a police officer’s top pay before being promoted to sergeant in San Angelo is currently $54,150. The City’s proposal would up that number to $55, 536, $1,301 shorter than the average sergeant starting pay, meaning a higher-ranking officer would receive $108.41 more per month.
Sergeant Kennedy explained an issue with promotion incentives associated with this pay scale. “The problem with that (the salary differences between ranks) is our separation in ranks is so small. We have officers here that it is not fiscally sound for them to promote because they would take a cut in pay. It’s not base pay,” he explained, and moved on to provide example. Kennedy mentioned a tenured detective who would “make a great supervisor and could become the brand new sergeant. It would equate to him going from working days, having weekends off, to working nights, working weekends for $100 [more] a month. Would you want to do that? That’s an issue we’re trying to address as well,” he said.
In his presentation, Michael Dane also mentioned the need for what he termed “resource discovery”, reiterating City Manager Daniel Valenzuela’s request from previous meetings that employees of City departments explore avenues in which their organizations may save money. Lisa Marley explained that the proposals presented by the PD have yet to be analyzed, however when actual cost-savings from the proposed items are assessed, the departments will be able to move forward.
At the moment, it has yet to be determined as to whether the SAPD’s money-saving initiatives will suffice to offset the costs of their pay increases or if they will be asked to search further within budget line items and provide new initiatives.
On the subject of further exploration into saving potential, Kennedy said, “For me to get it out of my chief’s budget—it can happen, but it’s not going to come near the funding mechanism that they’re requesting. It’s not even going to be close. With everything that’s already in there, it should. It’s not going to cover it, it’s going to reduce that funding liability,” Kennedy mentioned money-saving clauses in the PD’s current contract. “I’m not saying that there is not [room for other areas of saving], but it’s not going to be an exponential savings. We’re already $667,000 over budget. I think the chief said it best in one of the last meetings, ‘yeah, I can turn the cars off and we can just wait at the station until we get a call,’ but that goes dynamically against our philosophy that we need to be out there preventing crime as much as we are responding to it.”
After a few hours of caucus on behalf of both parties and brief deliberation among them, the SAPD opted to postpone finalization on the City’s offer. The next meet and confer is scheduled for Feb. 26 at 9:00 a.m. At that meeting, the SAPD and City staff will discuss the City’s proposal in greater depth