By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners unanimously approved an employment contract this week that guarantees police a 3.52-percent average raise this year and two percent raises in each of the following two budget years.
The 30-month agreement, effective April 1, increases police base pay by a total of $605,796, aligns salaries with years of service, and brings starting pay closer to the market minimum for counties with similar population and growth, according to county officials.
The employment agreement sets base pay and raises for all 236 county law enforcement officers. These officers include Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) corrections officers, HCSO deputies and command staff (excluding the sheriff and his chief deputy), and deputy constables.
The employment agreement ends almost a year of negotiations among representatives of the commissioners court, the Hays County Law Enforcement Association (HCLEA), and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).
County police approved the employment agreement at an HCLEA meeting on Monday. The vote was 39-2 in favor of the agreement.
In November 2008, 84.61 percent of Hays County voters approved civil service rules for county deputies, who then authorized HCLEA to bargain on their behalf. The county and HCLEA are the signatories to the employment contract. CLEAT provided negotiating assistance to HCLEA.
“Our officers, working along with the CLEAT representative and the county, have done very well (during the) months and months of working on this to get it finalized,” said Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler of the contract. “I’m very pleased with it.”
Of the aforementioned 236 police, 79 will not receive raises this year, said Hays County Human Resources Director Dee Dee Baen. Baen said the average raise for sheriff’s deputies and deputy constables this year is 3.3 percent. She said the average for corrections officers is 4.05 percent this year. Those who receive raises will see increases ranging from $22 per year to, in one, case more than $15,000.
According to county officials, law enforcement and correction officers’ salaries were an average of about seven percent below market minimum.
The employment agreement provides improved holiday pay to all police and stipulates compensation for officers who conduct training. Before the agreement, officers working on major holidays falling on a weekend, for example, were not given holiday pay. Officers who take on field training of new employees will receive an additional $1.20 per hour for the training period. Before the agreement, the county did not compensate officers who conduct training.
The agreement does not stipulate medical benefits and pensions, both of which the county provides to all eligible employees through the same program.
“We walked away with more than we had before, so everybody is doing well in this contract,” said HCLEA President Sam Stock.
Stock said the agreement will help the county attract and retain law enforcement officers. Stock said local law enforcement agencies are in constant competition with one another for employees. For example, Hays County recently snatched up someone the San Marcos Police Department had its sights on, and both agencies have lost employees to Austin, which pays its police some of the highest salaries in the state.
County police base pay and raises set by the contract for the next 2.5 years total $27,027,407, said Baen.
The collectively-bargained agreement increases this year’s cost for law enforcement officer salaries by $179,000, effective April 1, or six months into this budget year. These costs do not include those for retirement, medicare, and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax. Before the agreement, the cost for law enforcement salaries totaled about $10.2 million, Baen said.
Per the agreement, starting salary for a deputy is $42,719 effective April 1, and the starting salary for a corrections officer is $31,879. Before the employment agreement, HCSO deputies (excluding the chief deputy, whose rate of pay is set by the sheriff) were paid from $40,794 to $55,829 per year, and HCSO corrections officers were paid from $29,204.16 to $39,451.68 annually. The chief deputy’s salary is $86,077.92 this budget year.
The previous commissioners court had committed itself to yearly, four percent raises for all police except corrections officers. The four percent raises were first given last budget year, but not this year, in anticipation of the HCLEA contract.
During negotiations with the county during the last few months, HCLEA gave up the four-percent step plan to include corrections officers in the agreement and make them eligible for the same raises as other certified police officers.
All new peace officers will start work at the new minimum salary for a Hays County position regardless of any previous experience under the agreement.
Before the agreement, deputy constables were paid from $40,794 to $53,682 per year and corporals working in corrections were paid from $34,570.32 to $44,811.24 annually. HCSO detectives were paid from $46,770.48 to $63,801 per year. HCSO sergeants were paid from $47,034 to $ 70,551.12 per year. HCSO lieutenants were paid from $70,417.68 to $78,320.88. HCSO captains were paid $80,535.12.
The employment agreement between the county and HCLEA allows the county to renegotiate the contract before the 2.5-year term is up in the event of a financial crisis.
Some certified police in the District Attorney’s Office, the Fire Marshal’s Office and Development Services do not benefit from the agreement because they were not including in HCLEA’s bargaining unit.