In the wake of a compensation study that shows Killeen police officers are underpaid, city officials are right to try to close the pay gap.
Now the trick will be how to do that without straining the city’s budget.
On Tuesday, just a week after the presentation of a proposed budget calling for a 5 percent raise for civil service employees, Mayor Scott Cosper asked City Manager Glenn Morrison whether 5 percent was aggressive enough.
The numbers in the compensation study are compelling, showing that Killeen police pay is 8 percent below that of similar-sized cities, and that firefighters’ pay lags by 13 percent.
But it seems a bigger concern is the potential for Killeen police officers to leave for Austin, which offers a significantly higher pay scale.
Morrison noted that Austin is going to put out a call for 150 police officers in January, and that they are already calling officers here.
It’s a legitimate concern. Morrison noted the Killeen Police Department is already down 18 officers, and if KPD were to lose another 10 officers, it would not be able to function adequately.
Morrison said he would return to the council with proposals for civil service raises of 6, 7 and 8 percent. Still, the question remains whether even 8 percent would be adequate to prevent potential defections to Austin.
After a 3 percent raise in June, probationary police officers in KPD now earn $41,593, and a 10-year police officer’s salary is $55,453. Another 5 percent raise would put those pay rates at $43,672 and $58,225, respectively. A full 8 percent raise would bump these salaries up to $44,920 and $59,889.
Those numbers no doubt will stack up well against other cities in the market study, such as Abilene, Georgetown and San Marcos.
However, they still pale in comparison to the salaries offered by Austin PD. According to figures reported in late May, APD pays starting patrol officers $56,397 annually. Even with an 8 percent raise, a starting police officer would earn about $11,000 less with KPD than on the Austin force, and a 10-year KPD officer would only earn about $3,500 more per year than a starting cop in Austin.
Already, the proposed Killeen budget has set aside $1.13 million for the 5 percent civil-service raise. An 8 percent raise would require more than $2 million. Morrison assured council members the funds are within the police and fire departments’ current budgets. Yet the proposed 2015 budget calls for a $500,000 cut in police overtime.
Turnover is a continuing concern for the Killeen Police Department. Since 2012, KPD has lost 43 members of its 232-officer force, through resignations, retirements, firings, and in two cases, death.
By contrast, the police department in Waco — a city nearly equal in size to Killeen — lost just 21 officers during that span.
Boosting the salaries of Killeen’s civil service employees will certainly help the city retain more of its valuable, well-trained police and fire personnel.
Still, the city can only do so much to keep its civil servants in the fold.
Given the huge disparity between the two cities’ populations and tax bases, it would be unreasonable to expect Killeen to match Austin’s police and fire department salaries.
But beyond the issue of pay, the city could help protect itself over the short term by requiring graduates of Killeen’s police academy to commit to a contract with KPD as a condition of employment. Currently, academy cadets have no contractual obligations with the Killeen police force, despite receiving training partly at the city’s expense.
Ultimately, it should be the goal of the city, its administration and elected officials to provide Killeen’s civil servants the best training, supervision, equipment and compensation possible.
Still, when all is said and done, police and fire personnel must make career decisions based on what they believe is best for them and their families.
The best city officials can hope to do is make leaving a more difficult choice.