Council votes to Back its Blue

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The Mineola City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday to amend this year’s budget to incorporate a $1.50 an hour raise for its police department, dispatchers to captains, to try to keep from losing its investment in officers to other agencies that pay more. The raise did not include Police Chief Chuck Bittner, who requested the increase for his employees only.

The vote came after reassurance by Mayor Rodney Watkins, as well as City Administrator Mercy Rushing and Financial Director Cindy Karch that the city could afford the raise. Karch said the city is looking at an eight percent increase in sales taxes over last year, whereas it had budgeted for six percent. Watkins also pointed out with new businesses coming in, that number is only expected to increase. Plus, Rushing pointed out, it was recently reported in a financial review that the city has been able to start contributing again to its reserve fund that had fallen drastically over the years.

In the special meeting last Tuesday, Watkins gave the council a close look at the expense, monetary and time, to become a police officer. Pay comparisons between Mineola Police, Wood County Sheriff’s Department and the Lindale Police showed that for every position for which amounts were available, Mineola was lower.

The mayor had broached the idea in the April meeting. He noted Mineola does not allow a new officer to be alone on the streets until after 17 weeks of field training. With Mineola PD’s designated field training officer hired away, other personnel are now taking responsibility for that training. So the city pays for the new officer’s training time, plus the trainer’s additional time. Since April 2015, 11 people have left Mineola PD, six of whom left to go to other agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Last Tuesday, Watkins said there are many things which he had never paid attention to until Mineola PD lost its field training officer to the sheriff’s department. Watkins noted that, in addition to higher pay, the sheriff’s department allows their officers a personal patrol car which they drive home every day.

Watkins said that the city’s attorney, Blake Armstrong, told him that typically the sign of a good police department is the lack of lawsuits filed against it and the city. Watkins said he had talked to previous attorneys, who said that was an issue in the past. But Armstrong pointed out that is not the situation with the PD now.

Ward 2 Alderman Kevin White commented that he guessed the city should consider it a compliment that other agencies wanted their people. Ward 2 Councilperson Jayne Lankford said that today’s law enforcement officers don’t just enforce the law, but serve as counselors, mediators and more. White also said that oftentimes, police officers are the city’s first ambassadors to newcomers.

Ward 3 Councilperson Novada Bigham made the motion to approve the raise and Lankford voiced the second and all raised their hands.

All council members were present for last Tuesday’s meeting.

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