Victoria City Council looks for solution to police pay issue

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 24, 2012 at 2:24 a.m.
Updated July 25, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.

Victoria City Council has yet to decide how to move forward in solving the salary woes at the police department.

During its third budget workshop Tuesday, council seemed to want the best of both worlds: a system that rewards hard work and a system that addresses long-standing employees. However, because of budget constraints, they will have to choose one or the other and, so far, a unanimous agreement has yet to happen.

Police Chief J.J. Craig presented his budget proposal during Tuesday's meeting. His salary solution includes a 3 percent salary adjustment, and increases to officer certification pay and field training officer pay. The total increase to personnel and benefits would cost $500,092.

The plan would raise certification to $133,090 from $67,684, an increase of $65,406, by rewarding employees who receive master level certification, the highest level. It also doubles field training pay to $15,602 from $7,801.

Craig's plan also adjusts detective pay to $44,406.

It "requires extra expertise," Craig said, "the ability to be very technique-oriented."

The training officer increase invests in the department on the front-end, Craig said.

The department's total budget is requested at $11 million, an increase of $624.821 over last year's $10.4 million budget.

Craig has been a supporter of pay-for-performance structures, rather than tenure-based pay systems, as have several council members and the mayor. Monday night, the association presented a tenure-based system that would cost the city nearly $870,000 to implement.

The city's plan would give a 3 percent across-the-board raise, costing $153,822, and make market adjustments of $85,932 to distinguish between patrol officers and senior patrol officers.

Councilman Paul Polasek suggested adding an additional sum or percentage to be divvied out based on tenure to break to flat-line of salaries.

"We haven't funded this properly, that's how we got here," Polasek said. He said the sum would try to recognize the police association's wants.

He said he hopes a pay-for-performance system could be used in 2014.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said he supports a merit-based system.

"Some people are worth more," he said. "I'd like to see more pay-for-performance, and experience should be noted. An experienced officer is always better than a newbie."

While he supported Polasek's idea, he said he did not want the money divvied based solely on tenure.

However, Councilman David Hagan continued supporting his idea of having a citizens commission weigh in on the matter with input from the police association.

"Let's get to the heart of the problem," he said. "I'd like to get to the bottom line in the way a commission can take a better and more comprehensive look at this."

The idea gathered support from Councilwoman Josephine Soliz, who also said she supported meeting with all officers individually if a commission was not formed.

"This should have never come to this," she said. "We take care of buildings and equipment more than our personnel."

She said she supports a tenure- and certification-based system that outlines specific goals rather than subjective evaluations.

"Ultimately, it's the employees who will be happy or not happy. We're either going to keep them or lose them," she said.

Councilman Emett Alvarez said he supports hearing outside opinions.

"We deal with this every year, it's always going to come up," he said. "Maybe we need to have some other outside input on this matter."

Others feared a citizens commission would lead to collective bargaining.

"Putting this decision in the hands of the committee would empower that committee to do collective bargaining without a vote of the people," Mayor Will Armstrong said. "That's exactly why I'm opposed to a committee doing our job."



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