Police groups urge Council members to increase pay

Karn Dhingra By Karn Dhingra

Aug. 25, 2016 at 11:21 p.m.
Updated Aug. 26, 2016 at 6 a.m.

Officer Mark Hayden points his Taser during the Victoria Police Department's Taser training.

Officer Mark Hayden points his Taser during the Victoria Police Department's Taser training.

The Victoria Police Department is becoming a recruiting ground for better-paying departments in Texas, a police association representative told City Council members Thursday.

In the past year, the Victoria Police Department has lost five officers with a combined tenure of 55 years to other departments that pay better, said officer Ricardo Soto, the new Victoria Police Officers Association president.

Soto spoke to council members during the citizens' communication portion at the first of two public hearings scheduled to discuss Victoria's proposed 2016-2017 budget.

The city of Victoria has slated a little more than $14 million for the police department in its 2016-2017 budget, down from $14.3 million in the 2015-2016 budget.

Soto said members of the association were disappointed city leaders did not include pay raises in a budget that is offering residents increased taxes with decreased services.

During the hearing, Soto said the city had reneged on prior promises to raise police pay.

The city of Victoria had put in a pay raise plan three years ago for officers that was contingent only on available money, Mayor Paul Polasek said.

"We appreciate our police and all our city workers, but we can't spend money we don't have," Polasek said. "We're doing the best we can."

At the hearing, City Manager Charmelle Garrett said during her 23-year tenure in Victoria, police officers have not received raises twice - in 2009 and in 2017.

Soto's disappointment was seconded at the hearing by Ray Wilkinson, a field representative for the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Victoria's current pay structure does not favor tenured officers, according to Soto and Wilkinson.

"I don't want to see Victoria become a Triple-A farm club for other police departments," Wilkinson said.

Police departments the size of Victoria's have trouble recruiting officers, so they offer incoming candidates higher starting salaries by limiting the pay of tenured officers, Wilkinson said. The result is that long-tenured police officers end up leaving for better paying jobs at bigger departments or smaller departments that are not as busy as the Victoria Police Department.

"We recently had a police officer with seven years of tenure take a job in Seguin," Soto said, adding the officer took lower pay to work in Seguin's less-active department.

Wilkinson said in recent years, many Victoria officers have left for departments in or near Houston.

"Victoria police officers have high-quality training, and other departments are looking to recruit them," said Wilkinson. He urged council members to keep that in mind as they finalize the city's budget.



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