By CRISTIN REECE
The Palestine City Council decided to “put their money where their mouths are” Monday and unanimously approved raises for the city’s police force.
During Monday’s regular city council meeting, the Council approved a 4 percent raise for patrol officers and cadets; a just over 1 percent raise for corporals and sergeants; and a 1 percent raise to lieutenants – effective Monday, July 8.
“This is just a small drop in the bucket,” Councilman Vernon Denmon Jr. said. “We’ve dropped the ball for so long, we need to show these young men and women we are as committed to them as they are to their jobs.”
Mayor Therrell Thomas agreed.
“We get what we pay for,” he said. “I remember when we paid better than the city of Tyler. And it is time we put our money where our mouths are.”
City Manager Mike Ohrt told council members the police department’s pay scales were under par when compared to police departments in other, similar sized cities, which makes it difficult for the department to attract quality officers to come work for the city of Palestine and to keep quality officers within the department as well.
“The chief approached me about a mid-year increase and was able to show me the numbers,” Ohrt said. “Since the department is currently understaffed, by, I think, 11 positions, he was able to show where we can absorb this increase and not affect this remainder of this year’s budget.”
Ohrt told council members he’d already built the pay hikes into next year’s proposed budget.
“We haven’t given raises in so long, it’s terrible,” Councilman Steve Presley said. “Before the money wasn’t there. Now we can afford to and we should.”
Presley asked Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert if the city’s benefits package was adequately explained to potential new hires.
“Our benefits are better than in other cities already,” Presley said. “For instance we pay better for TCLEOSE certification and the city of Jacksonville makes their people pay 100 percent of their insurance – we don’t.
“When you’re selling the city, salaries are undoubtedly important – are you making sure they understand (the benefits package) as well?”
Chief Herbert said while he’s not a recruiter, he’s sure the benefits package is highlighted.
“We tell them, we show them,” he said. “We do try to sell it as a package deal.”
Councilman Jim Yelverton said he’d like to see city officials take a regular salary survey of surrounding areas.
“We need to make this a standard policy and make sure we stay in line with the rest of the area,” he said.
Salary surveys would include area cities of similar size to Palestine, including Athens, Jacksonville and others.
“I truly do appreciate this,” Chief Herbert said. “Thank you all.”
In other business, council members:
• APPROVED the appointment of Timothy Triplett to the Airport Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the appointment of Philip Chamberlain and Wade Hobbs to the Main Street Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the appointment of Dennis Knox to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
• APPROVED the appointment of M.C. Pirtle and Joseph Thompson to the Real Estate Committee.
• APPROVED the appointment of John Bradley Hafner to the Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals.
• APPROVED an ordinance approving abandonment of a 12-foot wide alley way adjacent to 220 Threll Street, in the Jackson Heights Addition.
• APPROVED an ordinance amending the city’s off-street parking lot and driveway standards.
• RECOGNIZED Junior Police Academy graduates, Citizen on Patrol graduates and promoted Corporal Jeremy Jenkins to sergeant.
The Palestine City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. every first and third Mondays of the month in the council chambers at Palestine City Hall, 504 N. Queen St., in Palestine.