LHPD has largest budget of area police departments

By SHELLY WILKISON

When it comes to staffing and resources, a recent survey shows Liberty Hill police have a higher budget than neighboring law enforcement agencies, but the number of officers is lower than some.

Although no action has been taken, there has been much discussion in recent weeks on a proposal to restructure the Liberty Hill Police Department as a means to cut City expenditures in the next fiscal year.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, who resigned this week to accept the City Administrator position in Jonestown, suggested the City could save as much as $75,000 if staffing levels are reduced to three full-time employees.

Since September 2011, the department has been working around the clock — a schedule that can’t be followed with fewer officers. In bringing the issue to the City Council, De La Rosa said he wanted the input of elected officials as to the level of protection and service they wanted for the community. He provided data showing the amount of revenue generated for the City through the issuance of traffic citations and compared that to the expenditures for the police department and the Municipal Court, which he said would likely be downsized should the number of officers be reduced.

With a current budget of $402,860 and a staff of five full-time officers and one part-time officer, the Liberty Hill Police Department has the largest budget of the agencies surveyed by The Independent – Bertram, Florence and Jarrell. The City Manager frequently compares those departments and those communities to Liberty Hill.

Police Chief Randy Williams said of those cities, he believes Bertram has the most similarities.

The Bertram Police Department, which serves a population of about 1,350, has five full-time officers and provides service around the clock.

In responding to an Open Records Request from The Independent, Bertram Police Chief Ron Hall said  his department’s budget for the current fiscal year is $304,304.

He said in addition to the five full-time officers, which includes himself, he utilizes the service of two to three unpaid reserve officers.

Hall said traffic enforcement represents up to 15 percent of the department’s activities.

Bertram officers have an average of 12 years of experience, and their salaries range from $32,000 (base pay) to $46,000, which is earned by the Chief. Bertram has a lieutenant paid $36,225 and a sergeant who is paid at $33,600. There are two officers currently being paid at the base level.

In Florence, where the police department serves a population of 1,036 and has a budget of $186,000, Police Chief Julie Elliott-Abshire said there are 10 officers. Of those, three are full-time — the Chief, a lieutenant and a sergeant.

Chief Elliott-Abshire earns a salary of $46,000 and part-time officers are paid at the rate of $10 per hour, she said. The department utilizes four reserve officers per week, primarily on weekends, and those officers are paid. She said the average number of years of experience is eight years.

“At this time, I do have enough (officers), but as the city grows, I will need more full-time officers,” she said.

Florence police officers do not work around-the-clock shifts, but do works seven days each week.

The duties of Florence police officers are primarily traffic related. The Chief estimated that 75 percent of their activities are connected to traffic enforcement and about 10 percent are violent calls.

In Jarrell’s Economic Development Corp. site, there are 16 officers serving a population of 2,400, reports Chief Andres Gutierrez. Officers do not provide coverage around the clock.

Chief Gutierrez said the department uses four to five unpaid reserve officers each week.

He said about 25 percent of their activities are traffic related and 1 percent of the calls are violent.

“We have a sufficient number at this time to comply with call volume when calculating the number of working reserve hours,” he said.

Starting salary for a Jarrell police officer is $15 per hour, but Gutierrez said  there are no officers currently paid at that level. The Chief earns $45,814 annually.

The current year’s buget for the Jarrell Police Department is $156,404, he said.

Liberty Hill police salaries range from $29,40 to $58,482, which is earned by Chief Williams. In addition to Bertram and Florence, there are three supervisors in Liberty Hill — the Chief, a captain and a sergeant.