In an effort to keep pace with other communities, Wildwood commissioners Monday boosted starting police officer salaries by nearly 19 percent.
The action increases starting salaries to $51,000 from the current rate of $43,000 and came after Police Chief Randy Parmer presented a comparison of police starting salaries in 15 area cities and counties.
The chief said he fears losing officers unless salaries are competitive, adding that one officer left recently and he knows several others are shopping around.
“We’ve got the department right where we want it,” said Parmer, who became Wildwood chief over three years ago.
Mayor Ed Wolf told about 10 officers who joined Parmer at the meeting that commissioners support them and that the city does not want turnover due to better job opportunities elsewhere.
“The last thing we want to do is be a training ground for these folks,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Elliott supported the police pay hike, but said it’s important not to neglect other city departments.
City Manager Jason McHugh is studying city employee pay and plans to recommend adjustments if needed.
The Wildwood starting salary adjustment puts the city near the highest in police pay among the departments surveyed by Parmer.
Lake County deputies have the area’s lowest starting salary of $41,500, but it is expected to rise to $51,000. Others at the lower end are Sumter County deputies at $43,500 and Marion County deputies at $44,556, although both departments are negotiating new contracts.
Area starting police salaries are highest in Belleview at $53,518 and Leesburg at $52,200.
Parmer said the average starting salary for all 15 departments he surveyed was $47,239.
“It is imperative that law enforcement agencies offer the necessary incentives to hire the most qualified officers,” he wrote in a July 29 memo to McHugh. “I’m confident that a competitive salary of this nature ($51,000) would greatly enhance our ability to attract highly desirable candidates.”