No police officer jobs formally added, but chief can ‘overhire’

The proposed city budget does not include eight added patrol officers requested by the Statesboro Police Department, but if the department gets to its currently authorized strength of 77 sworn officers, Chief Mike Broadhead may “overhire” for a few more, City Manager Charles Penny said Tuesday.

During an afternoon work session with the mayor and council, Penny proposed a $44.1 million fiscal year 2022 city operating budget that does not call for any tax or fee increases or incorporate any estimate of federal cash from the latest round of stimulus funding.

A 3% raise for all city employees and a new “pay for performance” system, both of which are in the budget, should help the SPD and other departments with recruitment and retention, he said. The 3% raise will increase the base, starting salary for rookie Statesboro police officers from the current $37,918 to slightly over $39,000 a year. 

“You can add new employees, but if you add new employees and we aren’t moving our people up, our current employees, to me we’re really not helping,” Penny told the elected officials. “The other thing is that if you decide you want to fund eight more police officers, I would strongly recommend you increase our millage on our tax rate.”

The city could pay eight additional officers for one year without a tax hike but would then be “locked into a tax increase” the second year to sustain their salaries, benefits and equipment needs, Penny said. He estimated that adding eight officers and equipping them with patrol vehicles would cost roughly $960,000 the first year. One mill of property tax brings the city about $700,000.

So Penny said he was not recommending the eight additional officers, but he noted that the council and mayor would make the final decision.

“The other piece is – right now this is not just  for police, this is for all of us – right now it is difficult to hire employees, it’s difficult to hire people, and Chief told you last week he’s  got  seven open,” Penny told them. “So if you added six, then he’ll need 13 people, and that’s going to make it even tougher. 

“And so as a manager, the chief and I have an agreement,” he continued. “If he gets to 77 but he finds two or three other people, he’s authorized to hire those two or three other people. … I’ve authorized him to do an overhire if we need to.”

Interviewed during a break, he said, “three or four” and did not set a formal limit. Stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act could help fund any “overhire” officers and buy patrol vehicles, he told the council, but again, ARPA money is not included in the city budget proposal.

The 3% across-the-board raise and the pay for performance plan, which are budgeted, are projected to cost about $600,000 each, or about $1.2 million total, and would also be continuing expenses.

This is being done without a tax increase after the city withheld some spending in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and received an infusion of cash from the first COVID-related federal relief package.

Over several years, the city has built a $7.11 million reserve fund, exceeding 25% of annual general fund expenses, Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles reported.

SPD staffing study

An internal staffing study completed by the Statesboro  Police Department last summer suggested that, based on an International Association of Chiefs of Police workload formula, the department could use 28 more line-level patrol officers in addition to the currently authorized 32.

A previous story referred to 77 as the SPD’s total authorized workforce, but this was in fact the allowed number of sworn officers, including commanders and supervisors, as well as detectives and the 32 regular patrol officers. The department’s total authorized workforce is about 94 employees, which also includes dispatchers and secretaries.

However, all but one of the seven recent vacancies are for regular patrol officers, Broadhead had said. As recently as an April 20 council work session he requested the eight additional patrol positions, including two he had asked for early in 2020 but which were not added after Penny initiated a conditional hiring freeze because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No votes were taken Tuesday, but Mayor Jonathan McCollar and the four council members present appeared to support the budget as proposed. None spoke against it.

The council member who has most often called for adding police officers, District 4’s John Riggs, approves of the allowed overhiring approach, he said outside the work session.

“He is giving the chief emergency power to hire a few extra if he sees fit, and that makes me happy,” Riggs said. “I would like for us to be able to fund all positions and have them all 100% full, but I understand how things are, so I’m pleased with this.”

Phoned Wednesday, Broadhead confirmed his agreement with Penny and said the 3% raise and the pay for performance plan should help in officer recruitment efforts.

“It’s going to put us in position to hopefully get a larger pool of really good, well qualified candidates,” Broadhead said.  “It’s getting us in the right direction. I just think this is a conversation that’s going to have to happen probably every year for a while because the marketplace for law enforcement is just very competitive between agencies since there are very few people that are great applicants applying.”

In the 40K league

While $39,056 would be the SPD’s new basic annual starting pay, he noted that the city has formulas allowing additional pay for officers joining the force with four-year college degrees or some law enforcement or military experience.

“So those incentives, while they don’t account for a lot of money, with a 3% raise will allow us to at least advertise wages over 40,” Broadhead said.  “We can say with full confidence that, depending on qualifications, we can offer you more than $40,000 to start. That at least gets us in the 40,000 conversation as everybody else is ratcheting up into the 40s.”

3% raise for all

The 3% raise follows advice from Condrey and Associates, the consulting firm that prepared the city’s current pay plan in 2019, that the plan is now about 3% under where it should be, Penny said.

He first presented the pay-for-performance idea to the mayor and council during their March strategic planning retreat on Jekyll Island. The plan provides a range of additional raises of 2% to 4% for employees who meet standards, up to those who do outstanding work, based on annual evaluations.

“If you don’t do the pay-for-performance, which is based on someone’s anniversary date, you’re just kicking the can down the road because our employees are never going to move up into the pay plan. …,” Penny said Tuesday. “We need to be rewarding our people.”

9 more firefighters

The conditional hiring freeze remains in effect for other city offices, but not for the police and fire departments, Penny said. In fact, he recommended adding nine firefighters.

The rationale behind the added firefighter positions will be reported in a separate story. The two public safety departments together make up slightly less than half of the city government’s authorized workforce of 310 employees.

A public hearing on the budget is slated for May 18, after which the council could adopt it June 1.

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