SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe city government may still be in belt-tightening mode, but there was room in the budget earlier this year for across-the-board raises for Santa Fe Police Department management.
Seven lieutenants, three captains and two deputy chiefs received pay increases of around 7 percent in March. The average salary bump for the group was $6,798.
Police department and union leaders say the raises were needed to address the department’s issues involving compaction, which happens when subordinate workers earn near or more than their superiors.
“This raise brought them up to a level where in most cases the supervisors are getting a little more money than the individuals they are supervising,” Police Chief Ray Rael said.
Meanwhile, over the past three years, rank-and-file police officers have gotten one 3 percent raise, with non-commissioned officers, such as public safety aides and animal control workers, receiving a slightly higher increase. City employees who don’t work in the public safety sector have made do with less, with one across-the-board 2 percent pay increase during the same time frame.
The police union took part in the discussion to raise pay for management, ultimately giving its stamp of approval.
However, it appears the raises weren’t discussed publicly.
Former City Manager Robert Romero, who retired in May, administratively authorized the plan. The Journal learned about the raises after looking at employee pay information provided by the city in response to a public records request.
Rael said the raises were given in accordance with city guidelines. He noted that the increases didn’t require additional funding for the police department. The money was taken from several small areas in the existing budget where police officials didn’t spend as much money as expected, he said.
City records show the March raises increased the annual pay of Deputy Chiefs Bill Johnson and John Schaerfl from $91,780 to $98,987.
Salaries for the department’s three captains increased an average of $5,846 a year, to $88,379.
Lieutenant pay jumped an average of $7,089 to bring the position’s annual salary to $80,350. Pre-raise salaries varied more among lieutenants than other managers, ranging from $70,520 to $75,689.
Rael did not receive a raise in March, according to city records. He pulls in a salary of about $104,000 annually.
The pension of at least one recent police department retiree benefited from the March raises. The $2.71 hourly pay bump given to Capt. Aric Wheeler, who retired in August, resulted in a 0.8 percent increase in Wheeler’s annual pension benefit, according to police department officials. Pensions are based on the three consecutive top-paying years of a worker’s career.
Wheeler was police chief for nearly two years before stepping down in 2011.
Lt. Abram Anaya, who served as Wheeler’s deputy chief, and Lt. Alan Mascarenas have also recently retired, although it wasn’t immediately clear how the pay raise impacted their pensions.
Officers who take on management positions have a tremendous amount of work, responsibility and accountability, Rael said.
He said there were several years that passed where union members received raises that non-union managers did not. Police higher-ups – who don’t belong to the police union – also don’t earn overtime or holiday pay.
It resulted in instances where sergeants were making more money than the lieutenants and captains who supervised them, Rael said.
“When it came to testing (for promotion to lieutenant) we were finding we didn’t have individuals who were interested in promotions because they would lose money,” Rael said.
Just prior to the March raises, only one sergeant took the test to be a lieutenant. After the raises, eight officers tried out, according to Rael. “That’s a marked increase,” he said.
The officers recently promoted to the position of lieutenant have perhaps been the biggest monetary beneficiaries of the March raises. Three sergeants promoted to lieutenant over the past several months received, for instance, pay bumps ranging from $16,808 to $17,438.
The police department currently consists of nearly 150 employees. Most lower-ranking police officers are paid hourly rates in the teens or twenties. Six sergeants have salaries that pay them $32-35 an hour.
However, documents provided by the police department show that last year nine police officers took home more money than the highest-paid lieutenant when hourly pay is combined with overtime. Sgt. Mark Barnett earned a total income of nearly $100,000. The other eight officers were within a few thousand dollars of the highest-paid lieutenants.
The take-home earnings of an additional 10 non-management police officers were also within range of the department’s lieutenants.
Overtime expenses have been an issue for the police department. A Journal investigation in 2009 found that over one 12-month period, officers’ overtime amounted to $1.13 million, with just 10 officers collectively earning nearly a quarter of that amount. In 2010, one sergeant alone made $53,000 in overtime.
The Police Department has brought the overtime total down since then, partly by moving to a controversial workweek shift that requires officers to work five eight-hour days instead of four 10-hour work days. The police union has fought the change.
Police union president Adam Gallegos agreed that the department had a problem with officers not seeking a promotion to lieutenant because they would make less money.
“We’re doing this for the betterment of the police department, so we get more people applying for those lieutenant positions,” Gallegos said. “Our main things were to make sure people in those positions were qualified to do those jobs and secondly to ensure there was a career ladder for members of the association.”
Gallegos said the union also agreed to the raises as part of negotiations to keep in place the current system of requiring officers to take a test to move to lieutenant instead of a proposal to have the police chief hand-pick lieutenants.
Rael said he isn’t ignoring the pay situation of lower-ranking police officers. The department is working on a recruitment and retention plan to make the SFPD competitive with higher-paid police departments around the state, he said.
Santa Fe city employees have traditionally received healthy annual pay increases. However, that practice stopped a few years ago as the national and local economic climate worsened.
City workers as a class didn’t receive raises in the 2010-2011 or 2011-2012 fiscal years. In 2012-2013, non-public safety workers saw 2 percent pay increases, while police and fire got raises of 2 to 4.5 percent. No across-the-board raises are scheduled for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to city officials.
It should be noted that over the past few years some individual city workers have received raises, at times very generous, for promotions and other reasons.