The city of Denison is considering salary increases for its police officers and firefighters to remain competitive with larger departments. The move comes as city officials said the departments have seen newly-trained officers and firefighters leave the departments for higher paying jobs closer to the Metroplex.
“What we are seeing, not just because of a healthy economy, is upward movement in wages and other communities are increasing their pay scale,” City Manager Jud Rex said, referring to police and fire pay. “Some of the communities we compete with for labor are raising their wages as well for civil services, police and fire, and we want to stay ahead of that.”
The discussions took place Friday during the city’s annual budget retreat. The event serves as one of the first steps toward setting an official budget for the next fiscal year this fall.
Since 2015, Rex said the turnover rate for both departments stands at about 10 percent, placing it within what would be considered normal. Despite this, Rex said the city has noted some cases where officers and firefighters have left the city for work in other departments.
“I don’t know if I would say we are in crisis mode, but we are monitoring this to ensure it stays in normal levels,” he said.
While no official cost for the proposed pay increase was discussed during Friday’s retreat, Financial and Administrative Services Director Renee’ Waggoner said the request is close to $500,000.
“We have researched the market and are looking at what we need to do to stay competitive, (and) from a budget standpoint, what can we afford, and I guess we will come forward with a recommendation on what that looks like” Rex said. “We hope to do as much as we can to remain competitive from a salary standpoint with our civil service positions. At the same point, we need to be fiscally responsibility.”
Both Denison Fire Rescue Chief Gregg Loyd and Denison Police Chief Jay Burch said both departments have lost employees in recent years. For the police department, this comes at a real cost as it isn’t easy to fill vacant positions.
Burch said it often takes about a year to replace an officer who has left. This includes the time taken to find a candidate, give initial testing, background checks and the police academy. During that time the existing staff at the department needs to be shifted to fill the gap, leading officers to shift positions. Often, overtime is needed to help fill this need, he said.
“Keep this in mind as we talk about retaining,” he said.
When an new officer hires in with Denison and receives training, Burch said that they are required to sign a memorandum of understanding for a service period of three years with the department. If an officer breaks this, Burch said there can be financial consequences including requiring the officer to repay training and equipment costs.
However, recently, Burch said the cost has been worth it for some officers who have been able to make more money working in other communities. More recently, Burch said there is a department to the south that has offered to “pay the penalty” for officers who are breaking similar memorandums. Burch did not specify which department has taken this approach to recruitment.
“In other words, we are always appreciative of the 2 percent increase, but other police and fire departments are getting that and more,” he said.
Loyd said the pay scale offered by Denison does lag behind some of the communities that Denison competes with, including those in the Metroplex. While advocating for increased pay, Loyd said it may not be necessary for the city to increase to or above the larger departments.
“If it’s from 5,000 or 10,000 I’ll go, then lets try to aim for something close enough that I can argue that difference,” Loyd said. “My entire time here, I am going to have to talk to people into staying. It just is. What I am trying to get out of this is get me to a point that I can sell that difference.”
Beyond this, Loyd said Denison does offer some advantages over the other markets, including advancement opportunities. In the metro communities, Loyd said the advancement in rank and position can be extremely competitive. However, a community like Denison may offer opportunities that Plano may not, Loyd said.
As an example of this, Rex said Denison Fire Rescue has taken steps to flatten its leadership hierarchy and distribute responsibilities throughout the department. This in turn can lead to skill growth and advancement throughout the department.
“People don’t remain in the same position for 20 years like they used to,” Rex said. “In order to remain competitive you have to offer those opportunities for advancement or else you run the risk of them leaving and moving out of the community.”