Local News

Sebring considers salary increases

SEBRING At the time earlier this year when the Sebring Police Department was forced to retire its K-9 for health reasons, the law enforcement agency ended up experiencing a double loss. As it turned out, the dog's handler left the Police Department about the same time and became a deputy at the Highlands County Sheriff's Office. The officer told the police epartment he would be making $6,000 more per year at the sheriff's office, Police Chief Thomas Dettman said Tuesday. That type of situation is a good part of the reason why Sebring Police Department's administration and the police union have joined together to back a plan that would provide salary increases for officers every several years, he said.
For the past several years, city employees got no raises, but during some years have been given bonuses. The City Council is also considering bonuses or salary increase for employees. While the police department and its employees greatly appreciate those bonuses in the past, Dettman said, the overall situation puts the department at a competitive disadvantage with the sheriff's office and creates situations where a rookie officer is receiving the same salary as a five-year officer. To make the salaries more competitive and rectify the situation, where for some experience goes unrewarded, it would cost about $37,000 the first year, including benefits and small raises for lieutenants to keep their salaries in the line with the rank and above lower ranks, Dettman said. He said he and Cmdr. Steve Carr would not get a salary increase. Dettman said the city may not be able to match salary increases provided for deputies, but some improvement is needed. "I think you need to be in the ballpark," he said. The proposal for a pay plan comes at a time when the City Council is debating whether to give all employees a raise or another one-time bonus. The city's administration proposed a 3 percent across-the-board increase, but council members did not favor that. Instead, they said they would consider a 1.7 percent increase tied to the increase in cost of living or a bonus, possibly, which would be higher for higher-paid employees to lower the disparity in the percentage of pay the bonus would represent between lower and higher-paid employees. Councilman John Clark said he would not support an arbitrary 3 percent raise, but appeared more amenable to the 1.7 percentage, particularly if department heads were urged to allocate it based on merit rather than giving everyone an equal increase. Each department could receive 1.7 percent and decide how to use it in that regard, Councilman Andrew Fells said. Mayor George Hensley said he advocated the bonus plan, allowing more time for development of a merit plan. Dettman questioned how a merit plan would work in the police department. For example, he questioned, whether officers who write the most tickets get the highest increase in pay. It may be that the officer who shows some compassion to a first-time offender who would face a hardship paying the fine is the better officer, he said. "In law enforcement it doesn't work," he said of a merit plan. But Public Works Director Kenneth Fields said he believes a merit plan would benefit his department. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834