Council fixes 'compression' issue blamed for high turnover

The City of Colleyville has had a salary freeze in place since 2009, but council members in July approved raises for the police department in an effort to fix a recruitment and retainment problem that Chief Michael Holder says would eventually cripple the city's public safety efforts.

Colleyville recently celebrated its lowest crime rate in 20 years, but the department has not been fully staffed since 2009, Holder told council members during a July 17 workshop. And he predicted that low morale and high turnover would persist within the department unless the council took action.

The issue at hand is a phenomenon known as compression, in which little or no difference exists between the salaries of longtime employees and newer recruits.

Holder said the compression had been caused by changes in the salary range over time, a citywide switch from step raises to merit raises in 2006 and inconsistent merit evaluation practices before the 2009 freeze. City Manager Jennifer Fadden explained the problem was unique to the police department, as it is the only city department in which dozens of people have the same job title and responsibilities.

Right now, the difference in salary between the highest paid six-year officer and a new recruit is only $981, Holder said, and there is a 15-year employee making less than a five-year employee.

"There's no real rhyme or reason to how our salary works out," he said, "and that makes it very difficult to manage and makes it very difficult for the employees to deal with."

The Colleyville Police Department has seen turnover as high as 15 percent in recent years. The majority of officers who are leaving the department have served between five and six years, and CPD has now been left with about half of its officers having fewer than six years of experience and the other half having more than 12 years of experience. Losing people at the six-year mark is particularly difficult, Holder said, as that is when officers are primed for greater responsibilities and promotions. High turnover is also expensive for taxpayers, he said.

"It costs us about $85,000 to recruit someone, train them — just to get them out on the street — and we're having to constantly do that," he said. "Then you lose your good officers because they have the opportunity to go somewhere else. ...We're becoming a training ground for other departments."

Holder has emphasized that the city's salary range remains competitive with area departments. The problem is that employees have not been moved through the range and their salaries have not been adjusted when the range has been moved up to compete with area cities.

The result is that the average CPD officer is making just more than $52,000 in salary, which is $5,000 lower than the salary midpoint, and more than half of the city's officers make less than $50,000. Only six officers, whose average tenure is 20 years, make more than the salary midpoint, and no one receives the max salary, despite the fact that one officer has served for 27 years.

Holder and Fadden said the council was being asked to act now because of the critical nature of the police department.

"We're utilizing overtime to increase minimum staffing on strategic shifts we've delayed promotions because we don't have the staffing to fill them we've delayed transfers and the implementation of the staffing plan, we have basically suspended the traffic unit and we have had to postpone or cancel training because we can't afford to let the officers go," Holder said. "We need to address it, we need to fix it and then we move forward."

To battle the inequalities, council members approved spreading out and raising salaries, based on tenure, for employees with the same rank. The adjustment amounts to a $213,781 impact on this year's operating budget.