Many were shocked by recent news reports that a growing number of deputy sheriffs in an adjoining county qualify for food stamps under the Lone Star card program due to low pay. However, in East Montgomery County, City of Roman Forest Police are paid far less than those featured in the article.
Four years ago, the City of Roman Forest increased Roman Forest Police Officers’ entry-level pay to $12.82 per hour, and Mayor Ray Ricks confirmed there has since been no pay increase. That places RFPD pay well below the poverty level, and even the $16 per hour entry-level pay for some area departments of comparable size, and $20 or more an hour for agencies in Harris County and South Montgomery County, according to a salary study conducted by Roman Forest Police Chief Stephen Carlisle, who has requested and been denied cost of living increases in previous budget years, despite the growth in the area increasing officers’ workload and calls to assist other agencies. Not only were requests for small increases to cover the cost of living denied, in 2013 the council chose to stop funding one officer position.
Chief Carlisle has proposed raising officers’ starting salaries and including merit and performance based incentives, as well as $10,000 for overtime pay. His proposal was presented to Mayor Ricks for the Council’s budget workshop. If approved, the measure would raise RFPD’s entry-level pay to $15.86 per hour, which would raise their income above the poverty level. The increase itself may seem generous at first glance, but the officers would still fall below what MIT Living Wage Calculator defines as a living wage in Montgomery County for one adult and one child, much less an entire family.
“Yes, our officers are making too little. I have submitted my budget proposal to Mayor Ricks,” Chief Carlisle said. “We have been working together on the budget for the past two days. I do understand the City budget is limited. However, I stand firm, our officers need to be brought closer to a living wage.”
Mayor Ricks was reluctant to take a position as of Wednesday, saying all City of Roman Forest employees deserved more than their current pay, but the city has “limited revenue.”
“All we get is ad valorem taxes,” Ricks said.
Be that as it may, last year the city had a carry over budget of $90,000 and ad valorem tax generated around $50,000 in extra funds. The price tag to the city for the requested pay increase would only be $54,600.
Shane Albritton, president of Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge # 99, says his organization supports Chief Carlisle’s request that Roman Forest City Council increase entry-level pay.
“It’s of the utmost importance to offer reasonable pay that will attract and keep quality officers,” Albritton said. “In business, not having competent employees can affect goods and services; in law enforcement, it can cost lives.”
Albritton also pointed out that having potentially lower quality officers puts a city at risk for civil lawsuits, which could be far more costly than the amount Chief Carlisle requested.
Roman Forest City Council will meet for a budget workshop Friday at 6 p.m. They have until September to finalize the details.