The city council left Tuesday’s work session with more questions than answers trying to figure out a public safety compensation package for the police and fire departments.

Mayor C.L. “Buster” Brown sent a memo to councilmen about a $2,000 a year increase across the board for both the CFD and the CPD. City Manager Connie Standridge spoke to the packed audience of the budget implications of the raise.

“(The increase) would be between $1,200 and $2,400 a year and we can feasible do that,” Standridge said. “Any more than that we can’t afford to take out of the fund balance.”

Brown mentioned that he wanted the fund balance near $1.8 million. It is currently $1 million.

“We need to generate a consensus today of what we are going to do,” Brown said.

Councilman Rust Hitt, who spoke with police representatives prior to the work session, wanted a long-term answer for the problem.

“I would like to get to some kind of a solution to the problem. Not just to fix it one time ... it is not going to go away otherwise,” Hitt said.

Hitt suggested a step increase, a policy many departments across the region have implemented. Under a step increase, officers and firemen would be paid based upon experience and length of service. He called it seniority plan.

“Let’s not pacify the situation, let’s get it better,” Hitt said.

“I agree,” Brown responded.

The enthusiasm of a step increase plan was quickly subdued with the mention that in order to amend the charter an election must be called. The next time a charter election can be called will be in May 2007.

“That gives us a lot of time to come up with something,” Brown said.

The $2,000 proposed increase would bring the CPD to within one percent above average to 12 percent below average when compared to regional cities. The variation is due to the other agencies’ seniority pay plan.

Currently Corsicana is six percent to 12 percent below the average of pay in the region.

Brown and Standridge suggested increasing the pay initially while trying to work out a long-term solution.

Councilman George Walker warned of simply appeasing the public safety constituents while ignoring the rest of the area.

“If the city spends everything on the police and fire department, the rest of the city will go to hell and a hand basket,” Walker said.

Standridge argued that the $2,000 a year increase would be, “a whale of a step forward.”

Corsicana Police Officer’s Association President Kelly Paul brought numbers to the table when asked to speak. He cited that the total amount for the proposed raise would be $280,000.

“I believe that a two-year veteran should be paid the same as another two-year veteran,” Paul said.

Paul mentioned the step increase as being a fair way to compensate officers. He then suggested freezing two to three positions to implement the step plan.

Currently the city spends a shade above $1.7 million a year on police pay. If the charter were to be amended and the three posts frozen, Kelly estimated that the additional cost of the step plan would be $57,000.

“There would be no disparity that way,” Paul said. “It can be done.”

CFD representative Brad Roughton understood the tough position the council was in with the current budget. He said any pay increase would be appreciated.

Chief G.M. Cox read regulations in police pay and talked about the base pay for officer’s to be the same.

“That’s what the law states,” Cox said. “I am for officer and firemen pay increases. How much is the issue.”

Cox said he believed the officers deserved a raise.

Hitt chimed in about the precarious position the council was in.

“This is a tough job, being on the council and being a city manager. We have to take into consideration the city’s health, taxes and well-being ... I heard that people think the City Council doesn’t care about the cops and the firemen. That is untrue,” Hitt said intently.

The councilman cited the general fund balance for each of the past five years and the rebuilding of the fund recently.

Brown instructed Standridge to draw up a compensation package with a pay increase not to exceed $200 a month across the board. The council will vote on approving the item at the March 7 meeting.

After the work session, Paul talked about the verdict.

“Anything done is a step in the right direction to fix the problem,” Paul said.

“A long-term solution still needs to be found.”

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AJ Narasimhan can be reached via e-mail at ajn@corsicanadailysun.com

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