San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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November 14th, 2009
Editorial: The council, the cops and their contract

cityhall2San Marcos City Hall. File photo.

By the Newstreamz editorial board

At a special meeting of the San Marcos City Council Monday, that august body will consider a limited agenda that, nonetheless, includes a measure that would increase the city’s annual costs by 2.5 percent.

The city is about to sign a collectively bargained (aka “union”) agreement with our local police. The agreement stipulates working conditions and, more to the point, handsome compensation increases in the forms of salary and “soft pay.” During the three-year life of the agreement, the city would spend $1.8 million more for police without adding a single man, woman, car or gun.

We have recently seen a spike in violent crimes such as home invasions, shootings and murders. If our city council were considering a proposal to fund one more police officer or detective on the streets to reduce this maelstrom with the goal of protecting the citizens of our city, we would rally in support of the effort. However, when the police union is asking for this money just to increase pay and benefits for the 95 officers currently on the force while other city employees are asked to forego cost-of-living increases, we must ask: Is this fair?

To answer this question, let’s consider what cities comparable to San Marcos pay their police.

First, we pay our starting police officers $44,011 per year. Our sister to the south, New Braunfels, pays starting officers $45,080, which amounts to $1,069 annually, or 2.4 percent more. Comparable Texas cities on offer their starting officers the following: College Station ($39,811), Bryan ($40,206), Waco ($42,754), and Belton ($35,300). Our county’s website said Hays County pays its deputy sheriffs $41,912 annually. When averaged, we pay our police officers 7.75 percent more than these other comparable governments — and that’s before the council approves a police contract that raises salaries even more.

We all understand that our police get paid because, in the words of one Newstreamz contributor, they ” … [are] available 24/7 on shifts, work holidays, put your [their] life on the line daily, [they’re] out in the weather no matter how bad it gets sometimes (heat, cold, rain), [they’re] willing to risk [their] life to save someone else, and deal with the true scum of life many times.” Being fair to this comment, we must point out that so do the officers of comparable cities in the State of Texas.

Let’s get back to the issue of fiscal responsibility, realizing that this increase does not fund one more penny to fight crime or slow traffic in our neighborhoods. At the end of three years, we will have spent an additional $1.8 million to fund our already well-paid police force. During the next three years, this decision amounts to additional pay for each officer totaling approximately $20,000.

This pay increase will be given over three years. The first year cost of this decision will be $314,572. The estimated cost of the second year will be that much, plus an additional $296,379, for a total cost of $610,040. In Year Three, we pay that $610,040, plus an additional $308,487. At the end of this contract, we will be paying nearly $1 million more per year for the police — and that’s if the police department doesn’t add a single officer.

This decision will find us paying each officer annually an additional $10,205. Remember, this annual increase will then be the base from which to start future negotiations.

If you do the math, this rate of increase results in a 21 percent pay increase during the next three years. The only number almost as large is the unemployment rate facing our nation, the highest unemployment since the Great Depression.

Understand, we are in favor of a safer and more secure San Marcos. We are opposed to paying more than our neighbors for the same level of protection. We contend that simply having our police union flexing its muscle to gain ground for their few at the expense of many, which includes us, is not fair.

We ask that the city council focus on the priorities of our city, particularly in light of these tough economic times. If the civil servants of our city are being underpaid, then let’s get that right. If those that are being well-paid just want more because they think they can get it, members of our city council, please consider who you serve when you vote this Monday.

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0 thoughts on “Editorial: The council, the cops and their contract

  1. It is certainly discouraging to hear that the agreement does not incude any new officers, since I have been told that we still lack the officers we need for neighborhood traffic enforcement (which would likely be revenue-neutral and might make people feel a little less concerned about home invasions).

  2. For once, I agree wholeheartedly. I’m scared to see our city government continuing to hand our taxpayers’ money at the rate they’re doing.

    Let’s not forget that in addition to a 20+% pay raise, our officers will apparently now qualify for a $5,000 incentive to purchase a home in the City.I guess we just can’t expect them to buy homes on a paltry 20% raise.

  3. Unbelievably well stated. I hope someone will be reading this verbatum at the meeting on Monday. Well done newstreamz. Thanks.

  4. Wow, I wish this was true. Whoever wrote this fictional column should contact the city and get the facts. The facts are that each officer (based on a true average) will average an increase of about 12 %over the life of the contract (3 years) . That equates to about 4% increase per year. What you fail to mention is that in this contract it is also requiring officers to have more college hours in order to promote as well as possibly changing an officers work day from 10 hrs to 12 hr shift and a number of other changes which should cut cost for the city.

    But of course, in an editorial you can say what ever you want regardless if it is factual or not. The fact is that we (police) will continue to serve and protect all members of this community including those that repeatedly lie in an attempt send honest abiding citizens into a panic.

    You really should really tell the entire truth and even have the guts to put your name on it like Mr. Marchutt and several others that respond to these editorials.

    God Bless You, the City of San Marcos, and this wonderfull country that we live in.

    PS. Not all officers will or do qualify for the $5000 incentive regardless of their pay.

    This will be my only response to this less than credible editorial. I have found more truth on Craigs List under Rants & Raves.

    Danny Arredondo
    President- San Marcos Police Officers Association

  5. Officer Arredondo, you have changed my mind, I was in support of most of your associations demands, but your earlier post made me feel that you’re not “asking” the city for a pay increase but actually telling the city “it’s either your way or the highway”.And what difference would it make to you if anyone puts their name or not? would you go and harass them just because they spoke up against your unions demands? isn’t it our duty as taxpayers to let our city council hear our voices, and demand the council to think twice before they spend our money.I have many friends who are officers in the city and county, and I know they work very hard to keep us safe, and MOST of them deserve an increase in their pay, but maybe, just maybe, this is the wrong time to ask for that increase.

  6. In the current economic climate I personally believe it is the wrong time for civil servants to ask for a pay raise. City council members, don’t bow to pressure from the men with guns, stick to your own and put this debate to a later date.

  7. What is wrong with an agreement that streamlines work shifts and increases standards along with salary? Folks if we want a professional Police (as well as Fire) Departments and would like to hold them to higher standards, then we must pay them as such professionals or face a “brain drain” to higher paying cities nearby.

  8. With the exception of Austin, (which we should not attempt to emulate in this case) there are no higher paying cities nearby. What is right about a $20K per year salary increase per officer in this (or any) economy?

  9. Read the above.

    We ARE the highest paying city “nearby”.

    We ARE in a recession.

    Other deserving city employees are still underpaid.

    No new officers are added out of this extra 1.8 million dollars.

    etc. etc.

    Not now,

    maybe later.

    Good common sense should trump politics, especially now.

  10. Note well, this is on the agenda for a “special” city council meeting on Monday, not the normal Tuesday meeting. And, the agenda for this “special” meeting does not provide for any additional citizen comment before our city council votes on this subject.

  11. Danny Arredondo has manipulated the truth before, why wouldn’t he now? The entire SMPD has illustrated an unbelievable lack of objectivity in this past year, why wouldn’t they continue to exhibit such now?

  12. I would not expect that you would want to ask for more officers if you were in a union. A union works for better conditions for its “current” employees. Every good Democrat knows this (I voted for the current President I am a closet Democrat). The job to ask for more officers rests in the hands of the Chief, City Manager, and Council they must believe that we don’t need them because there was no announcement of new officers on October 1 when the new budget went into effect.

    What did the city get? I know they got something. It is a contact and the city got theirs otherwise they would not have entered into it.

    This is the same news organization that stated civil service for San Marcos started in 2005 in a different article. San Marcos has been civil service for a long time. In 2005 the voters of Texas gave employees the right to conduct meet and confer contacts with cities.

    You think this is bad wait until the Sherriff’s union uses their collective bargaining power that we “Democrats” gave them last November by a healthy margin of victory. The commissioners will be forced to deal with them.

    Always fighting for the people who work real jobs, the Democrats of the United States.

  13. Bill Moore and I have not agreed on anything in 30 years so when we do agree, everyone should pay attention. Something is seriously wrong.

    I now have a copy of the contract between the police union and the City. I also have some supporting documents regarding police pay and how the new system will work. Make no mistake, this is only about money. With a few exceptions the agreement is only about police pay. Since we have paid a law firm $110,000 so far to work on the contract and negotiate the agreement, I would expect a more polished document with a whole lot more specificity but that’s not what we got. I am surprised that the police union would be willing to sign this agreement because there is one hole in the document that would allow the city to renege on the entire agreement. If I were a member of the police union, I would have some questions about some of the provisions in the contract. If you are a police officer, once this contract goes into effect, you forfeit all rights to appeal to the police administration, the city manager, the council and civil service on any of the items covered by the contract. All disputes must be submitted to the Union who will be your sole voice. You will not be able to appeal to any other organization for assistance. Once a year, at the start of each year, you may opt out of the union but it must be in writing at the designated time and place.

    There are two concepts which you need to understand to make sense of the supporting pay documents. There is Base pay and there is Soft pay. Base pay is the amount an officer would receive in a given rank plus Step increases. Those are guaranteed numbers that the city is going to commit to for the next 3 years (2010,2011, 2012). The best way to describe this is to give you an example. A basic police officer is guaranteed a Base salary in 2012 of $48,079 if he or she is a step A. The officer can progress through six additional steps with the highest being F with a Base pay of $61,362 by 2012. Unless I have missed a whole section in the contract, a step increase in not defined. It is not longevity pay because that is a whole ‘nother deal. If I were either a police officer or the City, I would certainly want this defined before the contract is signed. Where is our $110,000 law firm? Just imagine that you are a San Marcos police officer at step E. Your guarantee is $58,440 base pay. But here is the biggie, plus soft pay. If you are a Commander, your Base guarantee is $81,457 in 2012. And once again, plus soft pay.

    What is soft pay? Soft pay is outlined in the contract as all the other pay that officers may receive for various tasks within the department. The number of these soft items are just way too many to even listthem all. Some of the soft items, one would expect to find in any employment contract such as over time pay. What is not mentioned is overtime pay for exempt employees. Most private sector (and well run public sector endeavors) designate certain well paid supervisory positions as exempt position. An exempt position usually does not receive over time pay and other perks because those positions are expected to control their own work schedules and put in extra time when it is required to do the job. This concept does not exist in the contract so one has to assume that even Commanders get over time pay. They do under the current system but I would expect this to be addressed in the contract. Since there is no mention of what ranks are eligible for all the other Soft pay items, it appears that every officer is eligible for every Soft pay item.

    Here is just a few of the soft pay items: Sift Differential, Longevity pay ( a complicated deal to understand but it caps at 20 years at $4,080), educational incentive pay (pretty standard), On Call pay for certain classes of officers, Bilingual pay, etc… What is interesting is the Soft pay categories that are currently in use and listed on comparison schedules from other nearby cities but not discussed in the contract. Attn: Danny – Call your lawyer. A Field training coordinator (no I don’t know what he/she coordinates) gets Soft pay of $160 a month. Not mentioned. A downtown officer get an extra $160. Not mentioned. A bicycle riding officer gets $160 a month. Not mentioned. Here is one that will make you scratch your head. Outlet Mall officer, $160. Not mentioned. Many of the others like Accident Investigation pay $46.16 a month? per accident? There are a lot of vague Soft pay items that are just weird and pay weird amounts. The one constant when you look at the Soft pay matrix which compares SMPD with 10 other Texas police depts. is that San Marcos has a lot of these Soft pays compared to the other department and for the most part pay better than the other departments. Most other police departments cap the number of Soft pay items an officer can receive. Some cap at 1 item, some cap at 3 items and some cap at a fixed rate of $150 a month. San Marcos does not cap now and the concept of a cap is not mentioned in the new contract. A San Marcos police officer could, and do, stack these and make a lot of extra money. Since the contract is silent on this issue, I guess the city could, at a late date cap the categories at one. Danny – Call your lawyer.

    Now let’s discuss Base salary. The supporting documents have Base comparisons with the same 10 cities used in Soft pay. These comparisons are broke down for each position, i.e. Police Officer, Corporal, Lt. and Commander. Some of this gets a little dicey because some of the cities have different rank structure. Five of the ten Cities do not have a Commander position and it appears that a few that do, have a different concept of the position and a Commander is more like an Assistant Chief of Police. I sure wish I could put attachments on here because the tables are further divided into Minimum pay, Mid pay and Max pay. The mid range is really not a bad way to look at the data because, if we assume that most departments follow a bell curve on their pay for each rank, we get some consistency for comparison. Min and Max, without further information, can include some outliers that don’t help compare real life vs. theoretical pay. If you want something better than that, you can hire a statistician because I got a C in that course in graduate school. At mid point, San Marcos police of the rank of police officer are 4.5% better paid than their peers. At the Corporal level (be careful with this one because a lot of depts. don’t have corporals) at the mid point San Marcos pays 14.4% better. Sergeants at mid point are paid 10.6% above the norm. San Marcos does not have lieutenants so I think this, plus the discrepancy mentioned above distorts the Commander Base pay because Commanders fall-7.9% below the mid point pay. So in all honesty it looks like San Marcos police are, for the most part, paid better than the comparison cities. But the data is pretty flawed because of the different rank structures. For example, a police Sergeant at mid level in New Braunfels is paid about a thousand dollars a year more Base than a SMPD Sergeant but New Brunfels doesn’t have the rank of Lieutenant. Does this mean the a Sergeant in New Brunfels is paid less than a Sergeant in San Marcos because he/she have more or less responsibility? We just don’t know from the data but all indications are that SMPD is well paid right now in terms of both Base and Soft pay.

    So how much is this whole deal going to cost you as a citizen of San Marcos? If the City numbers can be trusted, which is a doubtful assumption, by the end of the third year the total expenditures will be either $1,256,139 or $$1,843,139 depending on which city figure you want to use. The city lists the total cost in thee years as the 1.2 million but lists the total “investment” at 1.8 million. Beware when any unit of government starts talking about “investment”. I think we know what that means. You are going to take it in the shorts. According to the Cities work sheet, this works out to an average pay increase for each officer of $19,401 in three years. Have you ever know any level of government that brought any project in or below cost estimates? Just the lawyers on this deal already have a $45 thousand dollar cost over run.

    We haven’t even got to the firemen yet! My guess is that the firemen are getting ready to be thrown under the bus. The police are taking so much money that the Council can legitimately tell the firemen, sorry guys but we spent it all on the cops.

    This contract stinks for the City and has a lot of errors and omissions. If I were a San Marcos Police Officers Association officer, I would not sign this document. There are too many things not covered and the one big hole that the City could drive a fire truck through. Fire truck, get it? That’s a joke at the expense of the fire men. I will make all of you a deal. You can pay me less than the law firm, say $90 thousand, I will rewrite the whole contract next week with out all the omissions (and typos) and we will all save a few bucks.

    I wish I had the time and energy to tell you about the horribly flawed promotion system that is outlined in the contract but I don’t because what is going to happen, Monday night shortly after the special meeting of the City Council starts, this contract will be approved with very little dissent from the Council. Everyone will vote yes except John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose. Maybe Chris Jones or Fred Terry will surprise us but don’t count on it. This is a done deal unless somebody like the City Attorney or Danny actually reads the contract and calls a halt to the whole deal.

  14. Rusty Shackleford’s comment proves that whenever there’s a serious issue, some Kool-Aid chugging partisan is always ready to milk it for all it isn’t worth.

  15. For the life of me, I can’t quite exactly follow what the message is, of Rusty Shackleford’s post.

    I did Google Rusty Shackleford‎, and it is a fictitious name used in “King of the Hill”.

    Perhaps “our” Rusty is another product of SMISD. ‎

  16. I still don’t understand how government employee unions are beneficial to anybody but the union members.

  17. Do I see rising, in a time, of inevitable comparisons among the various groups of local Civil Service/Public Service groups working in the various jurisdictions of City, County, University, and other state agencies (Think TABC or Park Rangers, for example?

    These discussions and the invidious distinctions and comparisons of rank, longevity, status, duty, rank and structure, chain of command, degree of hazard, standards of training and equipment, overtime and other “soft pay” etc.have reared their ugly heads before, The dialogue usually starts in the terms of fairness and equity for all, when all do not see an even playing field.

    To wit, the discussions commence in some potentially useful dialogue such as comparing Mission, Breadth of Mission, and unit alignment to accomplish same: Force A has more manpower and sophisticated communications equipment but a lesser scope of duty than Force B, for example–an inherent inequity unfair to Force B for comparison. Less than fully-blessed Policing Units have no SWAT capability, equipment, training or targets–then
    why not our unit? Swift Water Rescue, likewise? Why should one group be able to deploy investigative tools the others don’t have and have no charter for? In joint actions, which unit shall have its command ladder recognized for final authority or approval?

    For decades, other agencies have cast aspersions and limitations on the roles of UPD members, equating them to being merely “traffic cops, meter maids and nightwatching doorknockers.” It has been suggested UPD should not bear arms, but merely serve as scouts or outriders for the REAL cops. To which the other side responds with criminological statistics justifying their co-equal role and a likelihood that the same sort of crimes and investigations and outcomes are expected, since the clients, if not the geographic locations, are the same, and require very similar techniques and standards. Is one just to mollycoddle and “take care of” clients, while the other apprehends, indicts, and “takes down” suspects?

    Multijurisdictional teams simply WILL hit rough patches in trying to achieve precision, effectiveness and efficiency in doing duties AS teams. Of course trust through joint training and loosely-drawn boundaries go a long was toward accomplishing common goals. But inequities in pay, equipment, discretion, mission definition and “turf” can blow back into morale, trust, tight coordination, and claiming credit or passing blame.

    Under the new contract scenario, what is to become of the men and women at HSO, Gary Security, the Constabulary, and the organizers and beancounters in each unit, if the role of SMPOA redefines the field practically and professionally? What must the ambitious beginner think?

    Once it is loosed, this kind of discussion has the power to cause real morale cracks from command to street level, and since each of these essential units operates with different assumptions and under different command structures/personalities, problems are easy to see starting. What does this mean to the driver on the street, the shopkeeper in the store, the taxpayer in his living room, in terms of public health, safety and welfare? What does it mean to the press, or to the out-of-town parent, or the would-be innocent who falls into the hands of the law?

    I just wish our team of “Deciders” (to coin a term) would better explain up front why each provision of the contract is needed, and what it will accomplish. And why start the hemorrhage of future costs by hiring an unknown, outside, expensive mediating team to divine the contract terms and cost, but not necessarily the community benefits. Of course these questions have nothing to do with the public safety personnel–or data– themselves, but mainly with operational costs (V-22 Osprey, anyone?).

  18. The fact is that police are well paid, and most of the time, not well educated people…you barely need a high school diploma or GED to be a cop…Not to mention the fact that they get tons of grants to purchase all their equipment, lots of overtime pay working events using city equipment… Do they make anyone “more safe”? Probably not, just better paid officers mopping up the crime scenes….more speed traps to milk the citizens even more…Why do we take some of the least educated people, give them guns, tazers and the like, and tell them to enforce our laws, which the cops don’t know or respect in many cases. They have a hard job and do put their lives on the line, but so do A LOT of other people in government work and they don’t get guns…..I’ve met many good cops, but it seems even more bad ones.

    We are just going to tax ourselves into oblivion in this country, aren’t we?

  19. Wow. What a strange town. No wonder the rest of central texas grows and this place stays the same. What business (like Caterpillar’s small engine plant) would start here? Oh wait, they went to Seguin who must have a better educated work force. Or maybe not.
    I see pay for third shift(who should get paid extra for that) Pay for speaking spanish(learn it if you want more money) Who should be paid more to speak to citizens?
    Pay for on call(my gosh, extra money for being attached to a cell phone 24/7) Pay for college(who wants to cops to be educated any way)
    Like I said Wow. Oh, and Sims, do some exhaustive research and let me know how much the “bridge to nowhere i.e. Yarrington overpass is costing the town. Vocal minority wins again.

  20. I did to the research Phil. Carma Developers contributed $1 million to the cost of the $8.1 million overpass. The other $7.1 million was paid for by the City of San Marcos and Hays County. A TIF will REIMBURSE the city and the county the $7.1 million over the years.

    Maybe you don’t know how a TIF works. As the property values increase in value, the increased taxes paid on that property are dedicated to paying off improvements made in the TIF area (i.e., the overpass). Now, I guess you might say that this makes the bridge free. But in my mind, it is still taxpayers money. It’s a useful tool, but it sure doesn’t make something free. Get over it.

  21. If my response to Mr. O’connell seemed harsh it’s only that I get tired of hearing the (thankfully fading) critisism of the Yarrington Overpass. As to whether it cost “the town” I think you’ve pointed out in your response that it didn’t. I’m very well acquainted with how a tif works. Only the increase in taxes on property located within the TIRZ goes to repay the debt. In this case, only the Blanco Vista area. The debt is actually to a lender, not the city or county per se. So I, who happen to actually live in San Marcos and thus qualify to have an opinion on this, do not pay one cent more for this important link in the loop 110 infrastructure. If the city used their borrowing power to facilitate this then I would say it was a wise decision. There, I’m over it.

  22. Phil, do the people in the Blanco Vista area pay a higher tax rate to pay for the overpass? I understood they paid the same tax rate as everyone else. The difference is that instead of their money going to the general pool to satisfy their proportional share of the general tax burden, their money is diverted to pay off a private overpass and everyone else pays a higher share of the non-overpass tax burden. The City guarantees the debt by pledging the tax stream, so the fact that a private lender holds the note only means we pay the cost plus the interest/profit of the private lender.

  23. Since the overpass was in the city’s transportation masterplan I don’t think it’s fair to call it a “private overpass”. Furthermore, values of property outside Blanco Vista will go up and those taxes do go into the general fund. My passion on this issue stems from being a big supporter of the Loop 110 bypass which is finally getting some momentum. One might argue that the completion of this overpass has something to do with that though certainly the High School is a bigger factor. Citizen satifaction surveys consistently put transportation as one of the top complaints and completing Loop 110 will help address that problem.

  24. I think John totally gets it. And I’m not criticizing the overpass. We do need improved transportation. Not arguing that. Just don’t tell me it’s “free.” Nothing in life worth having is free. Just be honest. That’s important. The TIF circumvents tax funds that could have gone to projects elsewhere – which is not to say this project is not important. On the other hand, the improvements may increase the property values which in turn will help pay for the infrastructure improvements that were made. Just hope that happens.

    There have been some problems in Kyle with the property value increases along FM 1626 not keeping up with the payments on the debt for that TIF – and the City has had to kick in money from the general fund to make up the difference. Not terribly huge sums, but still… The City of Kyle last night just re-structured all the debt to try and reduce some of the debt load for the TIF. But I get confused with all the high finance stuff, so you shouldn’t look to me for a full explanation.

  25. It’s semantics. If you pledge the money you don’t have, and weren’t going to get, have you lost anything? And don’t forget, the ISD still gets their money. Only the city and county money goes to pay back the tif.

  26. One thing that seems to be lost here is that the agreement between the city and the police is a meet and confer agreement. From what I know about them it is simply a good faith agreement to work on issues important to both sides. Neither has to agree to it. So why would the city want to enter into an agreement? Because the city is getting some kind of benefits from it also. Report on what they are getting.

    Now look at collective bargaining. Hays County Sheriff’s Association won collective bargaining last year and their contract process has not even started. Everyone is making a big deal about SMPD wait until HCSO has their contract. Remember Austin and San Antonio have collective bargaining NOT MEET AND CONFER. Those departments’ negotiated very lucrative deals under the collective bargaining process. The county will have to meet with them and will have to do what a judge orders if an agreement is not reached

    This meet and confere will be easier to swallow then the collective bargaining contract that will be coming down from the county.

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