Nevada Highway Patrol troopers asked the Senate Finance Committee for legislation that would set their pay at or above the average pay for local officers in the Reno and Las Vegas areas.
The effect of SB179 would be to raise trooper pay scales by more than $10,000 a year and pay for sergeants and lieutenants by more than $20,000.
Altogether, it would require lawmakers add $42,317,000 to the Public Safety Department budget over the next two years.
"The state is losing its finest officers to higher paying agencies," said Troopers union representative Gary Wolff.
He said the state has given NHP officers a special raise several times in the last decade but that their increases are always outpaced by those given police in Washoe and Clark counties. He said a trooper with five years experience gets $41,133 but his counterparts in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson are all over $52,000 and Reno and Sparks at more than $47,000. The disparity is even larger for specialized officers and their command staff, Wolff said. An NHP sergeant with five years gets about $45,000 while a Metro sergeant makes $63,670 and a Henderson sergeant more than $72,000 a year.
As a result, he said those agencies can hire away experienced officers from NHP and public safety practically at will.
Gov. Kenny Guinn's budget has proposed a 10 percent increase plus 2 percent in cost of living increases each of the next two years. Wolff said they will still be behind.
He said the purpose of SB179 is to calculate the average pay received by law enforcement personnel in Nevada's largest departments and to require the state budget NHP and other law enforcement personnel in Public Safety at that level.
Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he agrees something must be done because the state is acting as a training agency for those local departments. But he said maybe they should look at the problem from the other end.
"I don't know if there is some way to control the salaries paid at the local level," he said. "We ought to take a look at that."
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, quickly added he doubted there was support for capping local police pay. But he too agreed the state simply can't keep up with local agencies.
Raggio said the solution might be a task force to study law enforcement pay scales statewide.
"This kind of measure would create a moving target," he said. "Maybe the law enforcement profession is so unique we should have a commission that sets salaries."
Wolff said a commission could look at all law enforcement in the state and make sure they are paid appropriately. He said agencies in Nevada are not only competing for experienced officers but they are competing with those in other states as well.
Rusty McAllister representing firefighters around the state asked the committee to consider state firefighters in the Nevada Division of Forestry if the legislation moves forward. And Alan Biaggi of the Conservation and Natural Resources Department said his Parks Division has another 34 law enforcement personnel who also need pay adjustments.
The committee took no action on the bill.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.