Wichita Falls residents will soon be spending more on taxes. City councilors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a .5 cent property tax increase.
“These are hard decisions,” said Councilor at Large Michael Smith. “But at least we're working toward keeping our pay for all employees at or near average.”
Councilors are making a pay plan increase of nine percent to the Wichita Falls Police Department, the same percent councilors said they were lagging behind in the market average.
The raises for the police department range from an increase of $283 extra a month to $670, depending on the position and title.
The tax rate increase will also allow for a seven percent increase to the pay plan of the fire department, and a one percent increase to the plan of hourly city employees.
The various fire department staff will see a new increase of $214 to $497 per month, depending on position this year. And hourly employees will get an increase of $56 to $91 extra a month.
Councilors will put $190,000 toward the city’s health insurance program.
This is a necessary step to compete in nearby areas with cities of similar size, according to the city council.
A raise that councilors said is past due.
“I think the council did a good faith to try and get the pay of our officers to a level that we can retain our officers,” said Chief of Police Manuel Borrego.
Borrego said retention has been an ongoing struggle for a department that’s already short on staff.
“We have our own police academy here,” said Borrego. “We train these officers to a high standard and we certainly don't want to have another city benefit from the hard work we do here.”
City residents pay thousands for officers to train through the academy, Borrego said.
But because Wichita Falls does not pay as well as other cities those officers often leave after training, according to Borrego.
“I look at it, as a police administrator, as a recruitment and retention tool for me,” said Borrego.
While residents agree that the raises may be warranted, they worry the increase will put more strain on limited income residents.
“A little bit, just having to cut down a little bit on everything that we have to do, that’s all it is,” said Frances Lopez, a Wichita Falls resident. “I appreciate that the town is trying to pick itself up.”
She said she is not happy about the increase but she will make it work.
“You just have to limit your income and learn how to work with it,” said Lopez.