BURNET, Texas (KXAN) — Burnet City Council’s recently approved pay increase for first responders is leaders’ latest strategy in an attempt to attract more emergency personnel to the Hill Country.

“It has just been unbelievable, the amount of growth in this area,” City Manager David Vaughn said. “We really have to be able to compete to get the best.”

The $300,000 increase in annual salary funds for police officers, firefighters and paramedics comes thanks to unanimous approval from city council members on Tuesday.

“It came out of several conversations we had over time about what we could do to recruit and retain quality employees,” Burnet Police Chief Brian Lee said. “What we have to offer here is such a close knit community.”

Lee said that same community sentiment drew him to the Hill Country region to take over as chief in May 2021, after spending 22 years with the Boise Police Department.

“But along with that, you have to have some pay equity, and when we started looking regionally, we didn’t have the pay equity we needed to attract candidates,” Lee said.

Part of the pay scale development for Lee, along with Burnet Fire Department Chief Mark Ingram, was conducting a region survey of what other area agencies were offering their recruits and current employees.

These included agencies in Killeen, Round Rock, Georgetown, Leander, Liberty Hill, Marble Falls, Lampasas and the local sheriff’s department, Lee said.

East of Burnet, Liberty Hill’s is the most competitive, Lee said, because of the population increase that area has experienced.

Burnet itself though, he mentioned, is growing as well. He pointed to three known subdivisions under construction as of late.

“With that is obviously going to bring a higher call load and with that, a higher burden on our officers,” Lee said, though they’re not seeing that demand quite yet.

“The ability for people to move to this area and afford it is a major issue,” Vaughn said.

That’s something leaders are hoping the increase will help with. “You’re really competing for employees.”

The money funneled into these positions will come from success with sales and property taxes, according to Vaughn, along with city council members efforts to make the budget work.

“Not just our council support for our police, but the community support for law enforcement is something you don’t see in every community, so being able to tie that in with a wage, we can compete with other area agencies,” said Vaughn. “That sets us apart.”

Patrol officer pay will range between $58,700 to $71,000 annually. “Long term, the scale also addresses equity issues and keeps us within that retention model…once they get here, the pay will follow them through the scale,” Lee said, adding that it adds clarity about how to grow within the department for current officers and potential recruits.

Firefighter and paramedic pay — which is a combined department of 33 personnel for the city of Burnet — will amount to between $68,000 and up to $82,000.

“The Burnet Fire Department is blessed to have a city council and city manager that has always supported public safety,” Ingram said in a statement.

Burnet is attempting to fill at least four positions on its police force and three more among fire department staff.

“We’ve reached staffing levels that are not acceptable,” Vaughn said, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic and hiring difficulties across the board and particularly within police departments.

“With the adoption of these scales, we are able to reward them for their service to this community,” he said.

The increase takes effect on Jan. 29.