Weatherford Democrat

August 20, 2013

City grapples with fire, police budgets


Weatherford Democrat

By BRIAN SMITH

To keep good people, you have to pay them.

Weatherford city officials are grappling with that and many other issues as they continue looking at the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1. Several city officials, including Fire Chief Paul Rust, said the city is paying its people less than what many similar-sized cities are paying their workers.

Rust compared the cities of Cleburne, Greenville and Waxahachie and discovered the department budget percentage of the general fund budget has Weatherford the lowest of the four at just over 20 percent last year and is expected to be just 18 percent for this coming year.

Weatherford’s $5.04 million fire department budget is spread among its 57 employees, the most of any of the four departments compared. The city spends about $191 per capita on fire protection, which is about $10 below the average of the four cities. Cleburne spends the most at $223, according to a staff report.

Rust said his department, like all city departments, strives to be the best in class.

“In several surveys, the public sees public safety as one of the reasons they move into an area, including schools and economic development,” Rust said. “We need a commitment from the council to show they agree.”

Rust said it would take an additional $500,000 to balance out the pay inequity between Weatherford and the other cities. That money would also bring the department back up to the percentage of the general fund it was just last year.

“[Police Chief] Mike [Manning] says his salary problems start at the bottom,” Rust said. “Mine kind of start in the middle.”

Manning said earlier in Saturday’s budget work session that he was having a difficult time hiring entry level officers because of the low pay officers start at. Manning said in a Monday e-mail the 10-15 percent mentioned to the council was what the spread between ranks should be, not an overall pay increase.  

Rust said his average level driver starts around $52,000 where other city’s drivers don’t even start that low.

City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said the city is beginning to get out of the market for hiring good people and needs to do something to rectify it.

“I don’t know how to get back without developing some other revenue sources,” Blaisdell said. “This isn’t something you do overnight. We need to see a marked increase in our sales tax or this is something we may never get caught up from.”

Other city departments also made their needs for additional personnel known after cuts back in 2008 trimmed many of them. Parks and Recreation Director Danielle Felts said her department lost seven employees since the 2008 cuts and is looking to replace them at the rate of two per year. The FY 2014 budget includes the addition of two groundskeepers for the department.

Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Shannon Goodman said each grounds keeper is responsible for taking care of about 41 acres of land throughout the city.

“Each one you add will make the job more manageable,” Goodman said.

As the city continues to grow, more and more is expected of departments to maintain the level of customer service residents and the council want to see. Many department heads that use the department come from outside the city.

Other budget work sessions  will be scheduled over the next several weeks to make final decisions on the budget.