By SHELLY WILKISON
While Liberty Hill police say preventive patrol around the clock may discourage some criminal activity, the schedule was too much for the department’s small staff.
So when an officer resigned in April, Chief Randy Williams said he used the opportunity to “restructure” the Liberty Hill Police Department. In addition to not filling the vacated position, Williams eliminated the rank of Captain and reduced the number of hours from 24 to 20 per day that the department is in service.
He said the administrative changes are likely not to be noticed by area residents. Should an emergency occur during the hours that local police are not on duty, deputies from Williamson County Sheriff’s Office respond. Such was the case prior to September 2011 when LHPD went to 24-hour coverage.
“I would love to have it (24-hour coverage). I believe in preventive patrols, but we can’t do it if we can’t keep it going,” he said.
Since the around-the-clock service ended, Williams said he has not seen any difference in the department’s case load. The hours officers are not on duty have the lowest call volume in a 24-hour period.
Williams said the vacancy created by the resignation of Officer Michael Manis in April has not been posted, and due to budget constraints, may not be filled in the coming fiscal year.
“The structure was set up for growth that was occuring at the time, but apparently, we’re not growing at the rate we were,” he said.
Williams clarified that he was referring to the growth of the police department rather than the growth of the city. He said the growth of the department is at the will of the City Council, and is not necessarily influenced by increased traffic through the area or increased population.
“Not only are we (the department) not growing, we’ve backed up a little bit,” he added.
Williams said he restructured the chain of command to eliminate the rank of Captain because the department appeared to be “top heavy.” Now with only four full-time employees, one part-time officer and one reserve (not compensated), it no longer makes sense to have three employees holding a supervisory rank, he said.
In May, former Captain George Nassour was assigned the rank of Officer. Williams said although Nassour’s rank dropped, his salary did not.
“This is just a police ranking system. It only means something internally,” he said.
Williams said Nassour, a six-year veteran of LHPD who is also a K9 officer, does not have supervisory duties. He said Nassour’s salary is “reasonable” for a six-year officer.
At present, an officer’s rank is not attached to his pay, although Williams said he plans to ask the Council this summer to adopt a pay scale that would differentiate between the ranks of officer and sergeant.
Under the proposed plan that Williams would like to become effective Oct. 1, an entry-level officer would earn $32,000 annually and an entry-level sergeant would earn $36,000. After each year on the job, an officer’s pay would increase by 3 percent. At the 10-year mark, a Liberty Hill officer would earn $46,000 and a sergeant would earn $51,520.
As Chief, Williams is working under an employment contract that expires in two years. The proposed pay scale does not include a chief’s position.
Williams said in the absence of a pay scale, an officer’s pay has been determined by “whatever I could talk the council into.” In the past, most city employees typically have received a 3 percent pay increase on their employment anniversary date each year.
As is the case in most municipalities, public safety makes up the largest portion of the City of Liberty Hill’s annual budget. Williams said he will ask the Council for $388,319 in the new fiscal year — about $14,500 less than his current budget of $402,860.
With one less officer on staff and the fulfillment of one lease on a patrol car, he said his request will be less.
However, he is requesting some funds for items in addition to adoption of a pay scale. Those include funds to replace computers and software, as well as three protective vests that will expire next year.
He said the department’s ability to generate revenue was cut somewhat in the current budget when the former city manager eliminated a security contract with the school district. That contact, which was renewed annually, generated about $3,500 for the department that in return provided drug-detecting K9 service 25 times per year.
Williams said without the contract, LHPD only provided the service three times at the request of campus administrators during the recently completed academic year. He said on those occasions, police were asked to utilize the dogs to search specific classrooms and vehicles.
The City Council is expected to meet in workshops during the summer to develop a budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. A budget and tax rate must be adopted in September.