A third-party consultant will be hired soon to examine ways to make Mobile’s historically low police salaries more competitive, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Tuesday.
Stimpson, speaking during the council meeting, said salaries throughout the city will be examined to see where “proper adjustments” are needed.
His comments come after an AL.com article posted Monday referenced a Careertrends.com analysis showing Mobile police officer wages as the fourth-lowest in the U.S. According to the website, Mobile’s average annual officer pay is $32,130, which is considerably lower than the national average of $58,720 and Alabama’s $41,040.
“We’ve been thinking about it for some time and (Finance Director) Paul Wesch has been looking at the disparity of what our police are making recognizing they were low-paid and what (the city should) do,” Stimpson said. “The article calls for it to be a more comprehensive look than what we were doing internally.”
Stimpson said it could take a month for the administration to identify a consultant and bring a contract before the council for a vote.
He said he’s not sure how long a study would take. He said the work would be completed before the city begins its fiscal year 2017 budget process sometime in the summer of 2016. Mobile’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1-Sept. 30.
“We’ve been fortunate to give several raises the last couple of years, but we’ve been woefully behind especially in the Police Department,” Stimpson said. “We’ll be bringing (a contract before the council) so that the next fiscal year, we can address this issue. If we cannot attract and retain qualified police officers, we will not be able to guarantee their safety.”
Stimpson said his administration was taking the lead on the consultant search and that other organizations – such as the Mobile Police Benevolent Association – were not part of the initial process.
“This is something the administration needs to initiate and get going,” he said.
Stimpson’s comments came after council members expressed concerns about the report. Some council members urged Stimpson to ensure that a consultant analyze total compensation packages – which include health insurance and retirement, among other things — for police and other employees.
“We need to look at the entire compensation package,” Stimpson said. “I would even guess our entire compensation package is low when it comes to our policemen.”
City records show that starting police officers with a high school diploma or equivalent earn a starting wage of $30,096 a year. For officers with a master’s degree, the starting annual pay is $34,091.
By comparison, a new Birmingham city police officer with a high school diploma or equivalent earns $37,232 annually. For officers with a four-year college degree, the annual pay is $41,038.
Tuscaloosa police officers make $45,876 in wages and Huntsville police officers average $43,734 each year. The annual salaries do not include overtime compensation.
Stimpson said it’s been at least 10 years since the city conducted a salary study.
“It’s very important to make sure all our employees are receiving a competitive wage that is in the interest of the city of Mobile,” Councilman Joel Daves said.
Councilman C.J. Small agreed with Stimpson’s action. He said hiring a consultant to analyze salaries is the best course of action for the city as it looks to remain competitive with police agencies throughout Alabama.
“In order to have protection of the citizens, we need to make sure the officers are happy,” Small said. “Happy employees make good employees.”
The Careertrends.com analysis showed that three Alabama cities made the list of the 30 places with the lowest police pay. Aside from Mobile, Dothan came in at the 23rd-lowest with an average officer pay of $35,450 and Gadsden is the 12th-lowest at $34,320.
Most of the cities on the list are in the South. Pascagoula, Miss., is the 10th-lowest with an average officer pay of $34,300. Alexandria, La., pays its officers at the lowest levels with an average salary $31,370 each year.
The city was able to provide a pay raise to police officers in the 2015 budget, but compensation issues arose early in Stimpson’s tenure as mayor.
On Dec. 30, 2013, Stimpson rescinded a pay raise promised by former Mayor Sam Jones out of concern about a budget deficit. At the time, police had not received a pay raise in more than seven years.
Stimpson said he was aware about Mobile’s low pay compared to other cities in Alabama, but was surprised to learn about the city’s standing nationally.
“I was not aware of the comparison across the nation,” he said. “It’s been 10-plus years since a study was done comparing our salaries with other communities. The time is right.”