By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The Master Police Officer Program came up in town council's budget discussion Monday night, and it led to members expressing full support for the program, but unease when trying to come up with the necessary funding.
The additional cost in salary requested by the police department is $55,081, which does not include overtime or other expenses.
Development of the program seemed necessary to the department after four officers left Front Royal to join two other local sheriff's office agencies.
According to a problem statement written by Deputy Chief Mark Werner, since he has been with the Front Royal Police Department, "the officers have never had a program in place that encourages and rewards them for their career development."
The Master Police Officer program would directly tie an officer's career development to an incentive-based pay scale. Currently, the department's structure does not reward or motivate officers to take on additional duties such as field training officer, general instructor or emergency services team operator.
"Many officers in this department have stated that they feel as though they are not valued by this department and the Town of Front Royal," Werner said in his overview of the current pay scale. He also outlined that it costs $165,804 to hire, train and equip one officer for three years, making the loss of one "expensive and detrimental."
The program creates different requirements that officers must meet before they can apply for elevation to the next tier.
All councilmen agreed that action needs to be taken to fix the turnover rate at the town's police department, and the majority expressed a desire for the associated cost to be included in the fiscal year 2012-2013 budget.
However, Town Manager Steve Burke said the pay scale that would come with the proposed program might not "marry with where the town is going with our pay plan."
Burke explained that, after research and development, he would like to present a "pay for performance" plan to council for town staff, which would be included in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget.
Councilman N. Shae Parker suggested several cuts in the 2012-2013 budget that would result in savings of about $50,000.
"Government exists first and foremost for the safety of its citizens. Given that, I think we need to take care of our police officers," he said.
Burke requested 90 days starting in July to review the program with the police department and "finalize its budgetary impact."
Werner added that there would be a period of time after implementation of the program that officers would take to work toward a pay increase.
Council members said they didn't want the program to be put off for another year, and discussed putting some money in contingency so that if it was implemented after the 2012-2013 budget was approved, funds would be available.