Six Years Of Wage Freezes For Florida Troopers Taking Their Toll On Recruiting, Retention

It’s the official policy of the state to give preferential hiring treatment to military veterans, but that effort faces the same difficulties all state workers do. Stagnant pay that’s gone six years without a general base-pay increase.

Officials with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs say the first question veterans ask as they prepare to return home is how they can begin a path to financial security.

“I think the first thing we’re asked is how much they get paid,” said Veterans Affairs spokesman Steve Murray. “None of them are that worried about medical benefits or retirement — it’s how they can provide for their families.”

More than a year ago, agencies like the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles began a robust recruiting effort aimed at employing service members rotating out of theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Florida Highway Patrol could be a natural fit for many of those returning veterans. But while other county and municipal law enforcement agencies offer guaranteed raises in the first 10 years of service, FHP and those of other state law-enforcement agencies are at the will of the Legislature. Like the rest of the state workforce, FHP troopers have not seen a base-pay raise in more than six years. Troopers start out at $33,977.

“And that’s pretty much what you’ll see until the lawmakers decide to do something,” said William B. Smith Jr., president of the Highway Patrol chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. “You’ve got guys that come on here, go through training and get offered a whole lot more somewhere else; it’s tough.”

Many vets, instead, are turning to state universities. For instance, Florida State University recently launched a campaign to attract them by providing special programs that make campus life a little easier.

“I think in the old days you’d see men coming home and wanting to continue that public service,” Murray said. “Now, it’s about mapping out that future.”

One federal program helps vets adapt the training they received in service to earn teaching certificates. “Troops to Teachers” started in 1994 and has since processed thousands into positions around the state. Its Florida director, Ron Burton, said like state agencies, the vets he sees are more worried about pay than benefits.

“These are guys who may already have a family,” Burton said. His program recruited more than 60 vets in the past year.

Vacancies within FHP continue to dwindle despite efforts to bring in vets. The department is allowed 1,946 sworn positions and 177 are open. Highway Safety spokeswoman Leslie Palmer said the continued vacancies are the result of increasing retirements. Efforts to recruit vets are on pace to increase and should fill the gap, Palmer said.

“No doubt, we’re ramping up our efforts at any recruiting events we can attend,” Palmer said.

Other agencies with turnover-prone positions also continue to tap veterans as new employees. The Florida Department of Corrections has aggressively sought veterans to fill corrections officer positions, and sent recruiters across the Southeast.

DOC recruiters pay particular attention to National Guard job fairs at Camp Blanding near Starke. Its transition coordinators also regularly refer correctional candidates, said DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard.

Relief may be on the horizon. Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget includes merit-based bonuses for higher performing state employees and $2,500 base pay increases for classroom teachers. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has indicated across-the-board raises for state workers and merit-based raises for teachers will be part of his chamber’s budget proposal. Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he planned to write raises for state law enforcement into next year’s budget.

“I’ve spoken with the agencies and I think there is a concern with the pay scale they’re at right now,” Negron said. “I think if we want to keep them around we need to do something.”

From Tallahassee.com