SAN ANGELO, TX — On Nov. 15, 2023, the City of San Angelo, under the leadership of City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, will reconvene discussions with the San Angelo Police Officer’s Coalition regarding police compensation. The negotiation session, termed “Meet & Confer,” is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the City Hall’s East Mezzanine.
The primary concern for the police is the outdated pay scale, which, they argue, has not kept pace with salary increases in other comparable cities. This issue surfaced unexpectedly after the deliberations of the FY 2024 budget by the San Angelo City Council. The budget, which began on Oct. 1, included a uniform 3.5 percent salary hike for all city employees, encompassing the police department. However, this increase was finalized apparently without the city council's knowledge of a burgeoning police pay crisis.
Comparatively, police salaries have risen significantly in other Texas cities, and those advertised salaries have increased quickly. For instance, for FY 2024, Abilene raised its starting salary for police recruits to $62,706, with a ten-year veteran earning $93,530 annually. In contrast, San Angelo’s starting salary for police stands at $49,864, with a ten-year veteran earning approximately $64,000.
The recruitment and retention of police officers have become challenging following the national anti-police sentiment sparked by the 2020 incident involving George Floyd. The applicant pool for police positions has notably shrunk. For instance, a recent civil service exam here attracted around 20 candidates, a stark decrease from the 100-150 applicants seen in the past.
Confidential sources within the police department express concerns about potentially losing over 10 percent of their experienced 160-member force due to salary issues. The San Angelo Police Officer’s Coalition highlighted in prior negotiations, apparently unbeknownst to elected city officials, that an additional $2.4 million annually is necessary to bridge the pay gap.
The financial implications are significant. To cover the $2.4 million payroll increase, property tax rates would need to rise by 3.13 cents per $100 of property valuation. This increase translates to an approximate $100 annual tax hike for a $300,000 property. Yet, in FY 2023, the tax rate was reduced from $0.770 to $0.7042.
City Manager Valenzuela indicated that the new tax rate barely avoids the “rollback” rate, a threshold set by the Texas Legislature which, if exceeded, mandates a voter-approved special election for the higher tax rate increase.
Potential funding sources for the salary increase include the City’s General Fund, which is currently robust, and the elevated sales tax revenue of 2023. However, reliance on sales tax for public safety expenses, which now consumes about 4 percent of these revenues, is risky due to the potential volatility of the economy.
Addressing police salaries might also lead to subsequent demands for firefighter pay increases, adding another layer of complexity to the city's budgetary challenges. Unlike the police, the fire department operates without a Meet & Confer process and is directly managed by the city.
This sudden urgency surrounding police pay raises questions about why it was not addressed during the earlier budget process when more options were available. Answers to that question involve the hush of information from inside closed door Meet & Confer negotiations. In other words, we were told, there was no Meet & Confer agreement yet, so why bring it up to the council? Meet & Confer ended abruptly last month with City staff and SAPOC at loggerheads over the details of the police salary hike, particularly on the timeframe the whole $2.4 million would be rolled out to the force.