New Braunfels and Comal County first responders work long hours patrolling and protecting the streets and responding to emergencies.
Commissioned officers serving on police, fire and sheriff’s departments have long been underpaid in those services. While some have departed to find better pay and benefits, some not too far from here, city and county officials are working to keep them here at home.
“We want to keep the great talent that we have for the long-term,” said Jerri Hettinger, Comal County’s human relations director. “We recently had employee service recognitions – one had 40 years, another with 30 years and a dozen more with 20 and 10 years.
“Yes, Comal County does attract and retain talent. But with the amount of growth we’ve experienced, we’ve had to take another look at (pay) — which is one of several challenges we’re facing as a county.”
Ahead of adopting budgets for the next fiscal year, the city and county revised salary scales for all employees, comparing wages and benefits to others offered in the area and state.
The county’s 2020 revision will be its first major overhaul since 2007; the city’s most recent studies were performed in 2013 and 2017. Both will edge them closer to reaching average area salary and benefits, which at one point lagged 24 percent behind the market.
“In 2013 we realized the need to review market data every two to three years,” city CFO Jared Werner said. “We’ve invested heavily in trying to match the police and fire plans and use them as a benchmark to compare with other cities.”
Both studies reviewed uniformed positions offered in Austin, San Marcos, San Antonio, Schertz, Seguin, Georgetown and others.
The city’s 2013 study indicated uniform police employees were paid 17.6% behind the market, and fire employees were 22.3% behind the market. Changes implemented the next three years reduced those respective gaps to 8.2% and 6.9%. The 2017 review led to changes implemented over the following two years.
As a result, entry level police pay went from $45,081 in 2014-15 to $52,500 in 2018-19. Beginning New Braunfels Fire Department pay increased from $40,841 to $50,833 over the same period.
“The 2019-20 update falls in line with the same strategy in those studies and will again include committees — one for police and another for fire — working with the city manager’s office and putting together step plans,” Werner said.
City Manager Robert Camareno will review 2019 study highlights on Aug. 12, when he presents his 2019-20 recommended budget to City Council.
Hettinger and Jessie Rahe, county auditor, conducted its most recent market analysis that also compared county employees’ pay and benefits to similar counties. Much relied on a San Antonio wage-level report the county participates in each year.
“We looked at the essential functions and duties of each position, as well as the overall benefit package to see if we were competitive when compared to Austin, Hays County, San Marcos, San Antonio and Midland, which is out of the way but another we looked at,” Hettinger said.
The result was revised pay scale and step level chart covering employees in three classifications — non-exempt, exempt and law enforcement, which was separated into its own category in the last county revision in 2007. If approved, it will give most employees and immediate 4% raise beginning Jan. 1.
A CCSO starting deputy that earned $47,050 in 2019 will earn $52,956 in 2020. Hettinger said pay alone doesn’t reflect the entire package, as benefits often comprise between 25% and 30% percent of total compensation.
“You have to look at the compensation package as a whole,” she said, indicating the county pays 100 percent of an individual employee’s medical insurance premiums. For 2019 the monthly average came to $761.83 per month and amounts to $10,000 for the year. She said the county also pays percentage of life insurance, short-term and long-term disability and employee assistance programs.
County Judge Sherman Krause said the county is doing level best to stay on top of caring for its employees by increasing pay, maintaining benefits and ensuring a good work environment.
“We don’t pay the highest, but we try to stay as close as we can,” he said. “Those three things are what makes (employees) want to get out there and work for the county.”
“We’re tackling several things right now. We’re trying to make the investments in the pay scales and managing the construction projects. We might not be getting to the level some people want, but we’re trying to get there — and those three things are part of (achieving) that balance.”