$1.5 million proposal could solve Victoria's salary issue

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 30, 2012 at 2:30 a.m.

After weeks of debate, Victoria City Council unanimously decided Monday to move forward with a comprehensive pay plan that would bring police department salaries up to market levels.

The estimated $1.5 million proposal took a broad approach to addressing salary woes across all city departments. It's first step is an $812,593 across-the-board adjustment to all city employees, $279,059 in market adjustments, and $400,000 to address "compression," which moves long-standing employees across the pay plan versus being on the same level as employees with none or little experience.

The seven-member council, along with City Manager Charmelle Garrett and Human Resources Director Cheryl Marthiljohni, agreed the plan is a step in the right direction to getting law enforcement salaries back on track after years of neglect.

Armstrong said he was proud of the work staff did in considering the needs and wishes of all 600 employees.

"The staff has done everything they can do with the budget. We have to try and be fair," Armstrong said.

He called it "a gigantic step" in the right direction.

Perhaps the largest change to the plan is the addition of a tenure-based plan for police and fire department employees to start in fiscal year 2013-14. To progress through the steps, police and fire employees would have to meet expectations in their current positions, Marthiljohni said. Council would need to fund the program each year.

Marthiljohni said staff provided what the police association wanted - a road map.

Police officers "want to see a structure at which they can progress through their career within the department," she said.

Chris Guerra, a member of Victoria Police Officers' Association, said the proposal gives him, and other officers, optimism by providing a clear method to moving across pay grades.

"The problems that have plagued our department and the reasons officers have left our department is because there has been no clear road map in the past in our pay structure," he said.

Some officers salaries have remained stagnant for years, he said.

He thanked the council for listening to the association.

"Every police officer goes into this line of work knowing we're not going to be rich," he said. "None of us were expecting not to progress across the salary ranges ... We're not going to be millionaires, but we can advance."

Staff's proposal modified its state certification pay scales based on what Police Chief J.J. Craig presented last week.

Officers at the intermediate and advanced level will receive the current annual compensation: $600 and $1,200, respectively. However, master certification holders will now receive $1,800 and field training officer incentives will double to $1,200, under the proposed plan. Detectives will also start receiving incentive pay of $1,200.

Garrett called it "a solid recommendation."

"We can afford what she's presenting and still be at the effective tax rate," she said.

She said councils have, since 1988, adopted pay plans almost every year.

"There's a strong history of proven pay programs," Garrett said. "This is the roadmap that they've been asking for and we believe that it meets the need."

Councilwoman Josephine Soliz, who previously recommended meeting one-on-one with every police department employee, said she is happy with the proposal. If the budget allows for it in the future, she would continue supporting it.

Other council members applauded staff for their proposal.

Councilman Emett Alvarez said he sees the plan as "a vast improvement," but wants to hear from the police association before giving final approval.

Joseph Felan, president of the Victoria Police Officers' Association, said the step program will encourage officers to apply in Victoria and stay in Victoria.

While a number of officers have left recently, Felan said it has not reached a "too little too late" state.

"We've got a good group of officers who are here and will be able to train these new officers," he said. "It lets them know that there's going to be some incentive to stay in Victoria."

He said the association appreciates the support from the community, city council and city staff during this process.



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