As Dade City anticipates burgeoning commercial and residential development, the city’s police chief said the time is ripe for increased funding for his department.
Dade City Police Chief James Walters addressed the issue during a Dade City Commission budget workshop earlier this month.
Early projections put the police department’s budget at nearly $2.9 million for fiscal year 2020-2021. That represents roughly 44% of the city’s entire $6.51 million general fund.
The agency’s budget this year includes creating a detective sergeant class to assist with span of control and supervision; adding a new civilian position to handle crime scene property evidence; and replacing three police vehicles totaling $165,000. The department originally asked for four vehicles.
A broader issue, however, centers on base salaries and overall pay to the department’s sworn police officers.
As Dade City Manager Leslie Porter negotiates with the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association on behalf of the police department, Walters is asking commissioners to consider a “significant pay adjustment” for his police force. He also wants “equity” of police officers in relation to other city employees.
The starting salary for a sworn Dade City police officer is about $37,700, notably lower than other law enforcement agencies in Pasco County, Walters said.
He also stated that starting salary hasn’t changed for numerous years.
“The average pay for a police officer of deputy sheriff in Pasco County is $41,000. That’s not because some departments are paying $42,000 or $40,000, but rather, because we’re at $37,000 and most others are in the mid-40s,” Walters said.
He pointed to Zephyrhills, which is advertising a $44,500 starting salary for a patrol officer. And, he noted that figure is expected to be higher with Zephyrhills’ next budget.
The city’s growth is a factor, too, the chief said, saying hundreds, if not thousands, of new homes have been approved within city limits.
That comes at a time when the agency already is having a challenging time recruiting and retaining qualified sworn officers, Walters said.
Nick Marolda, president of the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, touched on those issues without revealing information regarding the ongoing confidential negotiations.
“You’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars training these officers. They get great training, and then in about two years or three years, they look around and they see they’re the lowest (paid) in Pasco County, and they bail on you, and you lose all that money in training, and they go to another agency and you’ve got to start over again.
“The goal here is we’re trying to find good people and good officers to come to the department, and we’ve got to pay them for that, because it’s competitive,” Marolda explained.
The city’s police department has 23 sworn officers and about 40 total employees, which includes civilian personnel and part-time staffers.
While its police chief didn’t call for the addition of sworn officers in this year’s coming budget, it’s something he emphasized that commissioners must seriously address in coming years, until development levels out.
As of this year, the municipality had roughly 4,000 residential unit entitlements over the next decade — which means they are actively under construction or review.
“In order to provide the services this community has come to expect and deserve, the police department must grow as well,” he said.
“We are already seeing a tremendous increase in our calls for service, and the more calls for service that we have with the same number of officers, the less time there is to spend on direct speeding enforcement and community outreach and community-oriented policing,” Walters said.
Commissioners later voiced their support for the police department and the concerns raised by Walters, a 25-year veteran of the agency who’s served as chief since 2018.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Shive said the matter will be handled seriously by city leaders, and other commissioners echoed those sentiments.
Published August 26, 2020