Police union proposes pay step plan as Marco Island contract negotiations begin

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Police sirens.

Low salaries and disparities in pay have long been an issue with employee recruitment and retention at the city of Marco Island.

While members of the City Council have vocalized issues with pay during recent meetings, the police union offered a proposal Friday that has the potential to rectify the problems at least in regard to law enforcement officers.

During the first of what will be many contract negotiation meetings, the union introduced a changes to its contract with respect to compensation including a pay step program that would not only increase officer pay but put the department on a more even playing field with other agencies.

“We’ve had some officers at the low end, stuck at the low rate and by the same token, officers at the high end haven’t been getting increases either,” Matt Sellers, president of the Police Benevolent Association’s Gulf Coast chapter, said. 

The starting salary for a Marco Island police officer is one of the lowest in the region at $41,612 according to the most recent job postings. 

To make matters worse, officers have only received a three-percent raise over the last 10 years.

In meeting with Police Chief Al Schettino and acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco, Sellers said that the wages many of the officers are taking home are not enough to meet the minimum sustainable wage in Collier County, which is $66,000 for a family of four.

The PBA is also the bargaining unit for some of the other law enforcement agencies in the region, which Sellers noted were also getting raises.

Sellers said officers at Florida Gulf Coast University were going to receive a 12 percent increase while the city of Cape Coral has improved on its starting wage of $22.50 per hour.

“Cities are putting out quite a bit of money, but if we’re looking to not always play catchup, these guys would like to be compensated for the work that they do and be the agency that’s on top rather than catching up,” Sellers said.

As a way to improve the current pay system, the union has proposed a one-year contract with a 10-step pay structure, which some of the nearby law enforcement agencies already have in place.

While he said that he needed time to digest the figures that were being proposed, Schettino agreed that there needed to be greater compensations for police officers, whom he said deserved a decent retirement after putting their lives at risk.

“My belief is the officers must have a step plan,” Schettino said. “They have to know what they’re making three years from now, five years from now (and) 10 years from now. That’s important for retention and it’s important for their lives.”

In the current budget, there is a three percent raise for employees although Polanco noted during budget work sessions that the figure could change.

Polanco said that three percent was consistent with the last union contract so he wanted to honor it at the minimum.

In addition to the step plan, the union has also asked for additional compensatory time, personal leave time similar to the Naples Police Department and additional compensation for performing duties assigned to higher classifications.

Under the current structure, police department employees are compensated with a $100 pay premium when doing so. In its place, the union has proposed compensating officers at the minimum rate of the higher ranked position or a 10 percent increase in current pay, whichever is higher, when those duties are performed for more than three consecutive working days.

Ultimately, a decision on the budgetary figures will rest with the City Council and city manager, which left some officers wondering how the lack of a full-time manager would affect negotiations.

After Schettino asked him if he imagined negotiations dragging on for more than a year, Polanco said he could see things wrapped up within a reasonable time but again it would come down to the council.

With Marco Island still trying to determine how it will find its next manager, Polanco assured the union and officers present during Friday’s meeting that he wouldn’t let the process linger if he’s still in the position.

“If it comes down to that, I’ll make a decision,” Polanco said.