SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council moved ahead this week with an across-the-board salary increase for all members of its police force and laid the groundwork for a possible pay hike for employees in other departments.
In an effort to keep Salisbury competitive with law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions in the area in terms of recruiting and retaining officers, Police Chief Barbara Duncan earlier this month asked the council to consider a budget amendment that would provide a salary increase for the city’s police officers and support staff.
Duncan told city elected officials a comparatively low salary structure, coupled with a considerably higher case load, left Salisbury at a disadvantage with other law enforcement agencies in terms of recruiting and retaining quality officers.
Salisbury Police officers have not had a raise in five years and their pay scale is one of the lowest in the area. For example, the starting salary for a SPD officer is $36,400, which is slightly less than Fruitland at $36,500 and considerably lower than the Wicomico and Worcester County Sheriff’s Departments at $41,300 and $42,100 respectively. By comparison, Ocean City’s base salary for police officers is $42,700.
On top of the comparatively low salary structure is a wide disparity in the case load for the SPD compared to other agencies in the area. With 92 sworn officers serving a population of 30,300, the SPD typically has 47 officers on duty at a time and answered 51,681 calls for service in 2011. That breaks down to 1,085 calls handled annually per officer, which is significantly higher than jurisdictions of similar size in the area. For example, Annapolis Police answer 824 calls per officer, while Dover handles 716 calls per officer.
To that end, Duncan is seeking a budget amendment totaling an increase of over $400,000 for fiscal year 2013, providing a modest increase for the city’s sworn police officers.
The council has been receptive to the idea and multiple work sessions have been held to discuss the issue. On Monday, the council brought Duncan back in to discuss what the bottom line might be for the current fiscal year when salary increases for the four sets of dispatchers were included. The current budget provides for four sets of police dispatchers, but one of the sets has been frozen, leaving three that are seeking pay hikes. Duncan told the council on Monday when the dispatchers are included in SPD’s salary increase proposal, the total comes in at around $490,000. The $490,000 is a prorated figure because fiscal year 2013 is already nearly three months old. When extrapolated out over a complete fiscal year, the total salary increase package comes in at around $650,000. While most agree the SPD pay hike is likely overdue, some have voiced concern about the implications of the proposed salary increase on the overall budget.
“The mayor’s concern is this year is prorated, but next year and every year after, we’ll be liable for the full amount,” said City Administrator John Pick. “It’s $490,000 this year, but it will be $700,000 next year and in future years and we’re not sure that’s sustainable. It’s concerning.”
However, Councilwoman Debbie Campbell, who chaired Monday’s meeting in Council President Terry Cohen’s absence, said the proposed salary hike was necessary in order to keep quality police officers.
“This is something that must be done,” she said. “We have an $800,000 surplus, which gives me confidence we can sustain this.”
With that said, the three council members present on Monday voted to move the ordinance forward to the legislative agenda for consideration at the next meeting.
While the proposed salary hike for the police department advanced, the council took up the issue of a pay increases for other city employees.
Campbell said the issue deserved merit, but more information was needed before any real discussions could take place.
“We realize there’s a need to take a look at other departments, but that’s a discussion for another day,” she said. “We’ve hit a bumpy road with the administration at times. I’m quite positive this issue exists in other departments, but we can’t be sure without more information.”
Councilwoman Shanie Shields said the salary issue for other employees should be resolved sooner rather than later.
“We shouldn’t wait until it almost becomes a crisis,” she said. “We need to know where every department stands, especially the larger ones that provide everyday services to our citizens.”
Campbell agreed the pay hike issue for other city department should be expedited.
“We should push for a discussion on this before Christmas,” she said. “The longer we wait to make a fact-based decision, the more likely we are to have problems.”