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During this year’s budget hearings, County Administrator Harry Burgess contended that the county needs to develop standards for issuing merit raises, arguing that the current system for awarding raises is completely subjective.
The Los Alamos Police Department wants to take the subjectivity out of its system and give every officer a chance to improve their compensation by meeting set performance criteria.
LAPD Chief Wayne Torpy and acting Deputy Chief Randy Foster presented a Master Career Plan to council during a work session Tuesday.
The plan would reward employees for work experience, performance, education and professional achievements. The plan also allows every officer to advance yearly through a well-defined system of pay for performance criteria that demonstrate “value added” to the community.
Torpy first defined the need for such a system.
The county invests $77,000 in an officer during the first year, during which a rookie undergoes 10 months of training: six months of police academy training and an additional 12-16 weeks of field training.
“So we’re paying them for a year before the citizens are seeing the service for which we trained them,” Torpy said.
Under the current system there is a good chance that competing agencies will recruit those trainees away from the department during their first three to five years. Currently, 44 of the department’s 79 positions have less than five years of service.
Police departments in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Farmington all offer attractive incentives, which Los Alamos currently does not, such as hiring bonuses and additional pay for post-secondary degrees, incentive pay and specialty pay.
The proposed master career plan would make Los Alamos competitive with those cities by rewarding officers for additional training and specialization.
“It is not my intention just to retain, it is my intention to steal these quality people from these other organizations and have them come to our organization and offset the loss of experience I’ve had through the retirement of very tenured and seasoned employees,” Torpy said.
The plan is called a Dual Career Ladder, because it allows employees to increase their “job enrichment and compensation” through either a supervisory or non-supervisory career track. Currently, promotion to supervisory positions is the mechanism for advancement.
The proposed plan would offer higher pay for new hires that have already completed academy training.
It would also increase salaries for employees holding associate degrees by $1,200, bachelor’s degrees by $1,800 and a master’s degree by $2,400. There is currently no additional compensation for education.
“We have taken our educational level in this police department to, I think, probably the highest per capita throughout the state. Of the 17 officers we hired in three years, 13 have bachelor’s degrees and two have master’s degrees. That’s unheard of in the state. When I got here there were the police chief and maybe two other people that had advanced education,” Torpy said.
“But those officers are in that one- to three-year category. If we spend a million dollars to get them trained, they’re ripe for the picking from other agencies that pay for those things like education.”
Employees also could increase their income through means such as specialty pay ($600 a year per specialty) for expertise in areas such as bomb technician or defense tactics. Each employee is allowed two specialties.
The department would offer five percent incentive pay for training coordinators, detectives and other such positions. Under the current system, officers often take a cut in pay if they are assigned to a position such as training coordinator, since they receive no additional pay for the increased responsibility and may lose incentive pay for such things as working a midnight shift.
All employees are eligible for a 2.5 percent pay increase yearly by meeting set criteria. They must meet expectations on their annual review, have no disciplinary action other than oral counseling and complete three training choices totaling 40 hours per year.
Up to 20 hours of involvement with a civic project or mentoring program may be substituted for the required training. A two-credit college course toward an approved degree may also substitute for the 40 hours of required training.
If an employee does not meet the criteria within a given year, which is based on their start date in the department, they would not be eligible for a raise until the following year.
“This really encourages the employee to meet the requirements that they set forth in their goals and to move forward and get the extra training. If they don’t they have to wait another year for their pay for performance adjustment,” Foster said.
The pay for performance plan would be coupled with whatever cost of living adjustment the council designates for county employees yearly, so the compensation plan incentives do not fall behind due to inflationary pressures.
The proposed plan has a cost of $125,671 a year. To offset that, Torpy and his staff are proposing a significant reorganization of the department, which would not only have a net savings of $46,302 a year, but provide four additional retention officers and one additional officer to provide support for Los Alamos National Laboratory. With the reorganization, the Master Career Plan would cost the county an additional $79,369 a year.
A major concern expressed by councilors was having a set 2.5 percent pay for performance increase a year (provided employees meet all criteria). In last year’s budget, council approved 1.5 percent for merit raises, .75 percent for COLA and .75 percent to implement a new compensation plan.
“Since the police department is doing this first, doesn’t that by de facto set the amount of increase for everybody on the performance side?” Councilor Rick Reiss asked. “If there’s two and a half in the police department and I work in another department, why did I only get one?”
“I would anticipate any plan we bring forward in the future would be very close to this two and a half percent,” Burgess responded.
Torpy, however, qualified that statement.
“I don’t think we set the pace for being a high performance organization without having some place in the organization be the tug boat. I would say to you that if other departments find similar justifications, and then articulate those into a plan that is as comprehensive as this one, then maybe we will have achieved, at least partially, to have a real pay for performance plan for the county,” Torpy said.
“We also can’t walk away from the savings and the quality of service of me maintaining a department with seasoned personnel that give back to the community,” Torpy continued. “The reality to me is that we need to change the way we do business if we’re ever going to stop this bleeding of people leaving us when we spend all this money to train them, educate them and prepare them and then they go someplace else.”
The plan comes before council for a vote during the session set for Nov. 13.