By Chris Mannara
The Pagosa Springs Town Council approved a reorganization of the Pagosa Springs Police Department (PSPD) as well as two salary adjustment scenarios for the PSPD’s supervisory staff and nonsupervisory staff during a meeting on April 6.
PSPD Chief William Rockensock explained the proposed reorganization to town council during a meeting on March 18, outlining changes he would like to see.
Rockensock described that, currently, the PSPD has a lieutenant position and a corporal position.
However, Rockensock explained he would like to take the lieutenant position out and replace that position with an assistant chief position and replace the corporal position with a sergeant position.
During that meeting, Rockensock cited a need to “foster growth” as a reason behind the reorganization.
Going from the lieutenant position to the assistant chief position requires additional educational experience in the form of a bachelor’s degree or a combination of additional education and experience in the field, Rockensock noted during the April 6 meeting.
The assistant chief would assume full responsibility of the PSPD in the absence of the police chief, Rockensock added.
Additionally, that position would represent the PSPD at various events and meetings whenever the police chief is unable to attend, he added later.
For the sergeant position, at least five years of progressive law enforcement experience will be needed or a combination of education and experience, he described.
“They will be acting as field training officers. They will also be supervising field training officers and they will be assigned to various tasks by both the chief of police and the assistant chief,” Rockensock said, adding that this position will be directing all street personnel.
That position will make sure that final dispositions are taken care of and that evidence is preserved for various cases, among other duties, he explained.
Currently, the town has seven full-time officers that cover routine calls and patrol duties, Rockensock added later.
“Everybody does patrol. None of us are special,” he said. “One of the big reasons why I want to restructure the department is for future growth. To be able to have future growth, we need to have future leaders in place.”
Mayor Don Volger explained that he is in favor of the reorganization of the PSPD, but added that he would like to see patrol officers’ salaries go up to something that is “competitive” so Rockensock can have a full staff for patrol.
“Unfortunately, given the position that we’re currently in, we’ve had this corporal’s position open for six months. We’ve had two applications and one of them didn’t show up. They’re not exactly beating down our door based on a whole slew of things,” Rockensock explained, citing salary as one of the issues.
Currently the PSPD has two vacancies, with one being in patrol and the corporal position, Town Manager Andrea Phillips added later.
In regard to the proposed reorganization, council member Matt DeGuise explained he supported the change in order to plan for the future.
“You guys have a hard job. I want good talent to come in and stick around,” council member Matt deGraaf said. “You always get what you pay for and I would rather have the best.”
Phillips explained that town staff completed an organization-wide salary survey back in 2018, and, at the time, changes were made to positions within the town.
“At that time, we pulled out the police department as a separate salary schedule because of the competitive nature of those positions,” Phillips explained.
The town had a new “market refresh” done recently and has also compared its salaries to various other communities of similar sizes in order to get a more competitive salary schedule.
According to Human Resource and Records Administrator Kathy Harker, the town found that the PSPD positions are “not really competitive.”
According to agenda documentation, the current police chief’s salary of $87,013 is below the market range of $104,415.
Agenda documentation also notes that the police officer minimum salary of $48,627 is below the market range of $58,352.
“The pay scale is just one component in our toolbox to become more competitive in our region, but we also need to look at our hiring practices,” she said.
For both the administrative staff, which includes sworn officers in higher level leadership roles, and the operations staff, which includes sworn officers in non-leadership roles, the town developed three scenarios for possible salary readjustment.
Staff salary scenarios
For operations staff, scenario one suggests bringing staff to the minimum pay in the scale for their position plus 1 percent for time in position up to 5 percent.
Under this scenario, for example, a police officer recruit with no experience would see their current salary go from $46,320 to $51,058, according to agenda documentation.
“Scenario one sounds good, let’s bring them to the minimum and compensate them for time in position to address compression,” Harker said. “But if you look, the difference in salaries between officers who’ve been here less than a year and one who’s been here almost three years is less than $1,000. It’s a Band-Aid solution to get us up to be more competitive at the entry level. Long-term, I think we’re going to fall into the same pitfalls that we keep running into.”
Scenario two for operations staff is to bring staff to 25 percent of 50 percent over minimum pay for their position based upon time in the position, according to agenda documentation.
Under this scenario, a police officer with almost three years of experience would see their salary go from $49,821, to $53,490.
“It gives a little bit more of a range and feeling for the officers that they are getting compensated for their experience and stuff,” Harker said of scenario two.
Scenario three outlines that a step program be implemented that would feature increases after every year of service beginning at 25 percent over minimum.
“It’s pretty aggressive. It would bring officers that are post-certified, right out of the academy, at year one beginning at $51,000,” Harker said, adding that the step program will bring salaries up to market rate among similar communities in the region.
At step two, a police officer could be making $53,490 and could reach a maximum of $68,078, according to agenda documentation.
“That’s pretty enticing when we’re recruiting,” Harker explained. “In the past, we’ve brought officers in with no experience and they were making pretty close to the same wages as an officer that we’ve had in place for three years with organizational experience. That just kind of caused issues and we just keep getting further behind in it.”
Scenario three allows for officers to have a “clear path” as to where they could be within the PSPD, Harker explained further.
For scenario one for administrative staff, the proposal is to bring staff to the minimum pay in the scale for their position plus 1 percent for time in position up to 5 percent, according to agenda documentation.
Under this scenario, the PSPD chief’s current salary of $83,394 would see an increase of $7,970 to bring the new salary to $91,364, agenda documentation notes.
Along with an increase of $2,787 to the lieutenant position’s current salary of $62,427, this scenario would have a $12,365 fiscal impact to the town, according to agenda documentation.
Scenario two for administrative staff would be to bring staff to 25 percent over the minimum pay in the scale for their position, agenda documentation describes,
This would see a $7,970 increase to the PSPD chief’s current salary of $83,394 and a $3,414 increase to the lieutenant’s current salary of $62,427, agenda documentation notes.
This scenario would bring a $13,085 fiscal impact to the town, agenda documentation reads.
Phillips explained that scenario three considers when the lieutenant is promoted to assistant chief.
According to Phillips, this scenario is the most expensive but this is the one that town staff is proposing.
Under this scenario, the PSPD chief’s new salary would be $91,364, while the PSPD assistant chief’s salary would go from $62,427 to $72,692.
This scenario carries a $20,961 fiscal impact to the town.
“I just wanted to point out that, if this does happen, the police chief will be the second-highest paid town employee to myself,” Phillips said, noting her salary is $105,000. “It’s very typical that the police chief is the highest paid department head.”
Phillips clarified later in the meeting that none of these adjustments are budgeted for this year, and that the town may have to do a budget amendment based on council direction.
“I would like to see the chief be up to, by next year, be up to what’s recommended for that completive salary for a chief. We can do it gradually, half year, whatever,” Volger said.
Volger explained that he was in favor of doing something “right now” for patrol officers and other PSPD officers.
“Scenario three is one that I am drawn to. The clarity it gives the recruiting officers and it gives existing officers an idea on where they can go within the ranks and staying here for multiple years,” council member Madeline Bergon said.
Council member Nicole Pitcher suggested that if council does not choose scenario three for operations staff that the town will eventually “fall behind” in its attempts to be competitive salary-wise.
“What I’m hearing is you’re generally in favor of the reorganization and the new positions. I’m hearing that you’re generally in favor of scenario three for the non-leadership positions, which is the step program,” Phillips said.
For administrative staff, Volger suggested the town needs to work toward market value.
“I’d like to see us work toward that in a fashion that doesn’t necessarily go too fast. I like the idea that the police chief and the new assistant police chief would get a pretty considerable raise. I am not opposed to that because it starts us getting back on track to getting a competitive salary if we have to fill those positions at some point in time,” he said.
According to Harker, both scenario three for administrative and operations staff would carry a fiscal impact to the town of about $61,000.
Following more discussion, Bergon made a motion to approve the reorganization of the PSPD as well as scenario three for both administrative and operations staff. These budgetary matters will be brought back before town council at its April 22 meeting and will not go into affect until April 25.
The motion was approved unanimously by town council.