11/22/07

    Española Police officers are waiting to see if they will get raises after two new hires received generous pay packages.

    According to city documents, officers Michelle Ortega and Mike Rossini were hired earlier this month at $17 per hour — a higher salary than seven current officers, including three officers with more than five years' experience each.

    Lead police union negotiator Vince Crespin, who makes $15.15 per hour and has been with the Department for five years, said the new officer salaries are competitive with surrounding agencies.

    "I think that that's fair, and I don't disagree with it," Crespin said. "But I do disagree with them getting it before we got a raise. They should have taken care of the people that were here, that have been loyal to the department, first."

    Public Safety Chief Julian Gonzales said the two new officers also qualified for a $3,400 signing bonus. A third new hire, Los Alamos Police officer Emily Montoya, will receive the same package when she begins next week, Gonzales said.

    "We had to look at what they were getting paid in other departments," Gonzales said. "And what it was that we would need to make it attractive to other lateral officers."

    Ortega previously worked with the Española Police Department from 2003 until May 2007, when she took a job with the University of New Mexico. Gonzales said she made more than $20 per hour at the University.

    Ortega was making just $14.85 per hour when she resigned from Española, city documents state.

    Gonzales said he will meet with City Manager Gus Cordova Wednesday (11/21) to propose salary increases for the rest of the Department.

    "I want to bring the ones that are not on probation at least up to 17 (dollars per hour), and maybe a few cents more," Gonzales said.

    Gonzales said the Department has money to cover raises, mostly because it has lost so many officers in the past year. With 31 positions funded, the city can limit the force to 29 officers and use those savings to increase pay across the board, Gonzales said.

    Crespin said the Department, which currently has 19 officers, has already been getting by with fewer officers, and the Department probably couldn't fill all 31 positions by next year anyway.

    "If they're going to go ahead and take money (from those positions), it's not like they're filled," Crespin said. "By all means, do."

    Officer pay was a central issue when the union approved a no-confidence vote against Gonzales in July. Following the 17-2 vote, the City Council was vocal in its support for Gonzales.

    Crespin said he hopes to restart union negotiations with the city soon. New hires are eligible to join the union after one year of employment, Crespin said.

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