Conway police may have to wait until 2019 for 'competitive' pay raise

Josh Bell

The City of Conway's proposed 2018-19 budget includes a 2.1 percent cost-of-living pay increase for all employees at a cost of $300,000 — but a pay raise to make the city's police force competitive with Myrtle Beach may have to wait until at least the 2019-20 fiscal year due to a pending salary study.

"We're looking at doing a comprehensive salary study that would give us information that we need to make sure that what we're going to propose in the budget would be the right move for salary across the board," said City Administrator Adam Emrick during a budget retreat Friday. "Police is certainly a priority but all departments need to be looked at intensely."

Police Captain Tammy Carter had pitched a $5,519 increase in base pay for certified officers, bringing starting pay up to $43,340 per year to compete with Conway's neighboring police force, which starts out officers at $44,000.

"We must be competitive with the Myrtle Beach Police Department," Carter said during the presentation.

The reason for the proposed increase is recruitment and retention.

Right now, Conway officers with five years of experience earn $39,654 per year, while Myrtle Beach officers with five years of experience earn more than $55,000 under Myrtle Beach's pay scale, according to Carter's presentation.

The department has a staff of 55 full-time employees and three part-time employees, Carter said, adding that the department currently has eight vacancies.

Eight officers left the department in 2015, 11 officers left in 2016 and six left in 2017, Carter said, adding that it takes more than 16 months to get a new replacement officer on the road including recruitment, training at the police academy and training on the job.

Meanwhile, the department still has to pay that officer while they're in training and before they're on the road, which Carter said costs the department more than $65,000.

The proposed pay increase for officers would cost the the department $410,000 per year, she said.

But while the police raises could still technically happen this year (the budget doesn't have to be finalized until this summer) city officials want to wait until the salary study is done to determine if the raises for police and other department's restructuring requests are in line with other comparable cities.

The last time the city did a salary study was 1997, said Human Resources Director Lynn Smith, who added the study could help the city with recruitment and retention in all departments.

That's why $30,000 has been allocated for the study in the next budget year, and the recommendations could be implemented as early as the 2019-20 fiscal year.

So while it's possible that the officers could see a pay raise in the next fiscal year, it's unlikely.

"There's always a possibility. What we're doing right now is very preliminary," said Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy. "We believe, however, inasmuch as we want to get police in a better position as soon as possible, at the same time it sounds a little counter productive to pay a firm for a study that looks really in depth into something that we could make sustainable and make work over a period of time without knowing what the results might be.

"I'm sort of jostling back and forth myself on that issue."

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian