San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 13th, 2008
Conley pushes county cop pay

By Bill Peterson
Hays Highway Editor

SAN MARCOS – The Hays County Sheriff’s Office has 13 openings and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) isn’t high on who might end up with those jobs.

Conley said last week that the county’s compensation package for police officers is so puny that the quality of applicants for law enforcement openings is unacceptable. So, Conley put before the commissioners court a salary proposal made by the sheriff’s office with hopes of making the county more competitive.

The commissioners took no action other than to be presented with the information. Conley said he will be back in court with the matter soon.

The sheriff’s office wants base pay increases and guaranteed step increases, as well as incentive pay, night differential and compensation for various kinds of assignment, education and certification. Presently, the county offers law enforcement officers cost-of-living increases and three-percent merit increases as the budget allows.

“With the exception of unguaranteed cost-of-living increases and merit raises, the pay increases are inconsistent and can not be relied upon year to year,” said a market survey of local law enforcement agencies conducted by the sheriff’s office. “A step-based salary scale is an industry standard in the law enforcement community and has proven to be a powerful recruiting and retention tool.”

The sheriff’s department said its pay plan would cost only $64,958 more than the present system in Fiscal Year 2009. A penny on the property tax rate raises approximately $900,000 for the county.

Conley said he supports the plan, even if it’s one more weight on a county budget that’s already under pressure from a potential road bond issue, proposed improvements to the county jail and plans for a new county government center.

“We’re elected to make these tough decisions,” Conley said. “I want to take care of all county employees to the best of our ability, but this particular issue is a high priority for me.”

The sheriff’s office market survey gathered data from 11 local law enforcement agencies – the Austin Police Department, the Kyle Police Department, the San Marcos Police Department, the New Braunfels Police Department, the state Department of Public Safety, the Texas State University Police Department and the sheriff’s offices from Comal, Guadalupe, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties.

Five of those departments offer education pay, seven offer field training officer pay, six offer certification pay, three offer specialty assignment pay, three pay shift differential and five offer extra pay for bilingual officers.

Of the 11 law enforcement agencies surveyed, only the Hays and Guadalupe sheriff’s departments offer none of those incentives. However, the Guadalupe County office provides uniforms for its law enforcement personnel, unlike Hays County.

The uniform situation is especially irksome to Sheriff Allen Bridges, who sent a missive about it to the commissioners court. Deputy uniforms cost $613 each, Bridges said. The cost to the county for providing law enforcement uniforms would come to $61,398 in the next budget.

“Law enforcement officers must maintain a professional appearance in a harsh environment,” Bridges said. “…In order to be able to compete in the law enforcement community, we must provide the resources that will enable us to recruit against the other agencies in our local market. Providing uniforms will help us achieve this goal.”

But larger piece of that goal is pay. The sheriff’s office survey shows that of the 11 local law enforcement agencies, only Guadalupe County pays a lower base salary for deputies than Hays County, which pays $36,287 (Guadalupe pays $33,828). The Austin Police Department pays the highest base at $49,608.

The Hays County Sheriff’s office proposes a deputy base pay of $41,912, the same as the San Marcos Police Department. At the end of six step increases, that deputy would earn $54,517. The sheriff’s office also wants a base increase of $4,800 to $57,200 for detectives and $9,300 to $66,300 for sergeants.

Conley said the county must address officer pay if it’s going to recruit qualified and able policing, to say nothing of retaining many of the better officers already present.

“When we recruit officers, what do we have to offer?” Conley asked. “We pay less, there is no incentive pay, and you have to write us a check for $1,500 (to purchase uniforms) to start … We have a lot of good men and women committed to the county, and they stay for those reasons. But you can only take that so far.”

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