Having earlier approved a tax increase to fund a pay raise for entry-level police officers, Statesboro City Council approved the actual pay package Tuesday.
The raise of more than 12 percent in entry-level pay, plus increases for most officers up to the rank of sergeant, will use about 65 percent of revenue from the 1-mill property tax hike, City Manager Randy Wetmore said after the meeting. The remainder of the mill could fund a Statesboro Police Department “substation,” or community policing office, in an off-campus area near Georgia Southern University. Or the revenue could be kept for contingencies, he said.
“The remainder of those funds are for things that might come up that we’re not aware of, but also as the mayor mentioned today about the substation, that’s a possibility of where some of those funds could go, and then you think about the staffing of that facility, if it’s going to be 24-seven, if it’s going to be 16 hours a day or eight hours,” Wetmore said.
For new officers joining the Statesboro Police Department, annual pay will increase from the current $32,900 to a little over $37,000.
Chief of Police Mike Broadhead worked with the city’s human resources and finance departments, as well as the city manager’s office, to arrive at the recommendation. He said increases in salaries above the entry level were included to avoid compression in the pay scale, which would have resulted from increasing the starting wages alone.
“We feel like this is really going to position us not just for today but for the coming months to make sure that we remain competitive, as we’ve all talked about the dwindling pool of people who are interested in a law enforcement career and the opportunities to get the best candidates,” Broadhead told City Council.
The pay increase will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. But Mayor Jan Moore asked Broadhead for confirmation that the department would be ready to go ahead and advertise for officers using the new pay rates.
“We’re prepared to advertise tomorrow or maybe even this afternoon,” Broadhead said.
The SPD has recently been down as many as 12 officers from its authorized strength of 75 certified officers. Currently two more new hires are ready to go to the academy and two more have been given offers, he said later.
Tax hike in use
Council approved the millage rate increase in September. A mill is one-thousandth the value of property as assessed for taxes. One mill is projected to bring the city about $647,000 in additional revenue the first year. The approved police raises, with resulting increases in benefits, are projected to cost about $420,000 to $425,000, Wetmore said.
With all members present, council voted 5-0 to approve the police raises, on a motion from Councilman Phil Boyum seconded by Councilman John Riggs. Council members did not ask further questions or comment on the raises during Tuesday morning’s meeting.
Spending remaining revenue from the increase on a substation could help satisfy the insistence of some council members that the full mill go to public safety uses.
“Just as I said before, as long as it goes to improving the overall pay position as well as the current police force itself and public safety, I have no issues, as long as it is basically spent on the services that were told to the citizens it would be spent on, which is why they allowed us to vote to make that happen,” Councilman Travis Chance said later Tuesday.
Substation or office
The possibility of placing an SPD substation near the Georgia Southern campus was a separate item near the end of Tuesday’s agenda. Previous closed-session discussions with real estate negotiations as an announced topic were about possible sites, Moore acknowledged.
“We don’t really have an actual location to bring forward yet,” she told the council and public. “I was hoping we would today, but I don’t think we have something specific.”
Moore said she had suggested the idea of a substation to Broadhead several weeks ago and found him supportive.
“Part of the issue now is we recognize that Georgia Southern University and … the varied population around that comprises a city in and of itself,” Moore said, “and that may be some of the challenges we have in policing.”
Moore also commented that city is looking at putting video cameras at intersections in the same area.
“We’ve got some preliminary cooperation with Georgia Southern University to do that, and we’re beginning to talk through those details with them,” she said.
Broadhead described the area around the Chandler Road-Lanier Drive intersection as “probably the most heavily police-patrolled couple of streets in the entire city limits” with Statesboro police as well as Georgia Southern University police active there. He later mentioned Georgia Avenue as another street in this area.
“Really it’s just an opportunity, I think, for us to make that presence a little more permanent, to put an office in that area that shows that there’s a permanency to that and not just a transient nature of officers driving through the neighborhood,” he said.
The SPD office being considered will probably be “more a community-policing office,” than a formal substation, Broadhead said. It would not serve as a second headquarters, but would be available to officers working the area.
Meanwhile, Broadhead is looking at potential locations for three video cameras in that same general neighborhood. Police have no intention of monitoring the cameras 24 hours a day, but recorded video would be available for evidence of crimes after they occur, he said.
The city’s cameras, just outside the campus, would supplement an already extensive network of cameras the university maintains on campus.
“So what we’d like to do is just partner with them, and they’re very open to that, and so we’re trying to work together to do something that really, it’s extending the reach of their cameras if nothing else,” Broadhead said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.