Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael on Monday expressed serious misgivings about a proposal to bump up pay by 15 percent for officers living in or near Santa Fe.
Rael told the city’s Public Works Committee the pay raise could create morale problems and other issues in the Police Department.
“I believe the city needs to make some effort to make the city of Santa Fe more attractive for officers who come in” but a pay raise would be “problematic,” he said.
The increase could also worsen the department’s salary compaction issues, Rael said. Compaction occurs when a supervisor’s pay is near, or even less than, the salary of the workers he or she oversees. “As it is, we have sergeants making more than (higher-ranking) lieutenants. And the compaction is really going to be amplified because of this,” Rael said.
Rael said compaction has resulted from pay raises lower-ranking officers receive through their union-negotiated contracts. Managers haven’t been given comparable increases.
Officers would have to live within the “corporate limits of the city of Santa Fe” to qualify for a pay bump, according to the resolution. Councilor Ron Trujillo said he’d like to amend the language to cover officers living within 15 miles of Santa Fe.
For the average rookie police officer, who earns about $38,958 annually, the 15 percent “live in Santa Fe” incentive would mean an extra $5,843 or so a year.
Public Works Committee members postponed making a decision on the resolution until their next meeting, saying they wanted more information about, among other things, alternative incentives and the fiscal impact of the proposed change.
“I think we are all looking at refining this in (terms of) what incentive is the appropriate form, in what amount and to whom does it apply … I think we should just refer it back to the next meeting and try to get some of that input,” Councilor Carmichael Dominguez said.
The measure may also lead to scaling back the police department’s vehicle take-home policy, which allows officers to commute up to 60 miles each way between work and home using their patrol cars and city-paid fuel.
The proposed resolution refers to “implementing a mileage distance of 15 miles for new commissioned police personnel to take home police vehicles.”
The measure also revives a program for police officers to live in manufactured homes on city property. Rael said alternatives to the proposed 15 percent pay raise might be to require all new police hires to live within 15 miles of Santa Fe, or to end the take-home car policy for new recruits. Providing police officers with down-payment assistance or other encouragement to live in Santa Fe is another possibility.
Rael also said the city should consider raising salaries for new police officers to increase Santa Fe’s competitiveness in hiring.
Rael told the Public Works Committee around 64 percent of police officers currently live within 15 miles of Santa Fe. However, some at City Hall have said the number is lower. Many officers live in places such as Rio Rancho or Albuquerque, where the cost of living tends to be cheaper than in Santa Fe.
If the resolution is approved by the City Council, its provisions won’t automatically become city policy. Rather, they would be put into the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, and city managers would negotiate details with the police union.