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Killeen employee pay raise will have varying benefits

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Giving employees a little more in their paychecks is generally a good thing.

To that end, Killeen City Council members are to be commended for approving a 3 percent pay raise for city employees, police officers and firefighters at last week’s meeting.

For many city employees, it’s especially welcome, since they last received a 2 percent increase in April 2013.

The raise, which will be reflected in paychecks issued June 18, will carry through until Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Obviously, the cost of a raise for nearly 1,200 employees doesn’t come cheaply. In order to cover the pay increase for the next 3½ months, the city will have to shell out an additional $547,000. Funding will come from several sources — the general fund, aviation fund, solid waste fund, water and sewer fund, drainage fund and special revenues fund.

The big question about the pay increase would be, why now? After all, the city will be adopting a new budget by late August, and it would be simple to include the 3 percent hike — or maybe even a larger bump — at that time.

Another question is why the increase was all-inclusive. With the exception of City Manager Glenn Morrison, who received a 4 percent raise last month — all city employees will see a pay increase.

While this is no doubt a morale builder for most employees, the across-the-board hike will have varying effects, depending on the pay scale for a given position.

For example, an employee making $10 an hour will see an increase of just $12 a week. That translates to $624 annually, before taxes.

However, an upper-level employee making $75,000 a year will see an increase of $43 per week, or $2,250 a year. For top-tier employees such as assistant city managers, it will be nearly twice that amount.

Morrison said the rationale for an increase comes down to recruitment and retention. Since positions are advertised listing the minimum and maximum pay amounts authorized, boosting the minimum salary will serve to attract more qualified applicants.

By increasing the midpoint and maximum pay for these positions, the city is better positioned to retain quality employees, Morrison said.

This is particularly important in the police department, where employee turnover is a concern. Since 2012, 43 officers left the police department, according to city documents, though many of those departures were through retirement. In a few other cases, the officers died.

The increase will put the salary at almost $41,600 for a starting Killeen police officer on a probationary basis. The annual salary for 10-year officers would rise to $55,453.

Similarly, salaries would rise to just under $41,000 for a starting firefighter and a little more than $51,200 for a 10-year veteran of the fire department.

The fiscal impact on the two departments is about $243,000.

What must be considered is whether the city’s stop-gap increase is an effective use of taxpayer money. Most would say it is, particularly since some of the increased pay is likely to find its way back into the local economy.

Morrison said the increase isn’t a fix to the city’s pay plan, but it sets the stage for further increases in the 2014-2015 budget. He called the 3 percent hike “just a start.”

Depending on how the next raise is structured, it could run into some big money.

The current raise is only funded until the end of September, at a cost of more than $500,000. To carry that increase through the next fiscal year will cost at least another $1.7 million — and any additional salary hikes would just bump that figure higher.

Obviously, the question comes down to what the city should be paying its employees — at all levels.

Providing employees a fair, competitive wage while staying within the city’s budget is a balancing act — especially in a fast-growing community like Killeen.

Ultimately, finding that proper balance is what responsible government is all about.

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