The city’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget includes a reformed pay plan for the Columbus Police Department aimed at retaining more officers initially and encouraging them to stay with the department longer.
The pay plan, which is the product of a commission that included leaders in Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s administration and representatives from the police department, involves giving police officers regular pay raises at different intervals.
Officers would receive a $750 raise after one year, another $1,000 after three years, $1,200 after five years, another $1,500 at seven years and again after 10 years. Thereafter, they would get a $1,500 raise every five years, with the final hike coming in their 30th year. In total, the package would provide $11,950 in pay raises over the 30-year span, in addition to any cost of living raises or increases due to promotions.
The starting pay for a Columbus police officer with only a high school diploma is $36,725. Not including COLAs or promotions, that officer is guaranteed to be making at least $48,675 after 30 years under the plan.
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But the plan also calls for eliminating the initial $2,000 sign-on bonus currently given to new recruits, which concerns Police Chief Ricky Boren, who was present this morning when the plan was presented to Columbus Council.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Boren said. “But one of my concerns is, if we’re looking at a pool of applicants and they find out that another agency has a $2,000 sign-on, starting at the same amount of money, will they be more apt to choose that agency over an agency that now doesn’t have it? That’s my concern.”
Tomlinson said the $2,000 bonus has not been shown to be very effective, and she believes the schedule of guaranteed pay raises will be more enticing to new recruits and a motivation for officers to stay with the department.
“The sign-on bonus is not as big,” Tomlinson said. “It’s not as big of an incentive as them knowing that there is going to gradually increase.”
The pay plan affects only the police department, Tomlinson said. It does not affect the Sheriff’s or Marshal’s offices nor any other public safety department. Those other agencies will retain the $2,000 sign-on bonus, but will not receive the guaranteed pay hikes.
City leaders hope the pay plan will address a problem the department has concerning the longevity of officers. Currently, 55 percent of the department’s officers have less than 10 years experience and 28 percent have over 20 years. That leaves just 17 percent in the middle, with 10-20 years of experience. Boren said a healthy departrment needs more people in the middle category because those are the officers who are most likely to be the ones who take over leadership positions as retirements make them open.
In addition to creating the pay raise schedule and eliminating the sign-on bonus, the plan calls for eliminating “gap time,” and makes the plan adhere to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Today’s presentation was to council sitting as the Budget Review Committee. The plan would take effect July 1 if council approves the proposed budget with the plan intact.