The Allan Hancock College board of trustees voted Tuesday night to conduct another round of recruiting in an attempt to fill the job of police chief, again rejecting an option to contract with an outside agency.

The vote marked the latest chapter in the extended debate about the future of the campus Police Department, which has had three leaders in the past 12 months, and has several vacancies among its ranks.

A search for a new chief hit a snag after the top candidate, a Santa Maria Police Department sergeant, learned his Public Employees’ Retirement System rate, now 3 percent at 50 years old, would not transfer if he took the job at Hancock College.

That would lead to a substantial reduction in retirement earnings, Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said. 

Without any other viable candidates, the college asked Santa Maria police to estimate the cost if the agency provided a contract chief as it has in the past.

Instead of the $157,000 in salary and benefits for college police chief, contracting with Santa Maria police could cost $215,000 to $250,000 to cover expenses, Walthers said.

By comparison, he showed what other community colleges pay their police chiefs such as $83,856 to $101,928 for Cuesta College, $111,468 to $149,376 for Ventura College and $93,264 to $128,916 for Victor Valley College.

Several campuses, such as Santa Barbara City College, do not have their own police force, but use security officers, he added.

“I know I’m not ready to give up on this search,” said Hilda Zacarias, board president.

She noted that the police chief will be responsible for the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors on campus.

“I do believe that we have to take into account that level of responsibility when we’re looking at addressing compensation,” Zacarias said. “Please be with us on that or help us to find solutions.”

The board also directed Walthers to begin the process of boosting the salary range for the job, which initially was advertised as between $99,000 and $118,000. 

“We might end up trying again and failing,” Zacarias said. “And if we do, then we’re all going to have to go back and make decisions about how safety is going to happen on our campuses. … Something has to happen. How much longer can we keep doing this? Not much.”

Before the board’s vote, Yvette Andrade, from the California School Employees Association, questioned the proposed salary if a contracted Santa Maria police officer filled the job, calling it “fiscally irresponsible” to move forward with the proposal.

“I’m here to express what we think is an absurd amount of money to be requesting,” she added.

This new price tag would be added on top of what college leaders estimated would be a $1.5 million effort to rebuild the Hancock Police Department. 

In previous reports to the board, law enforcement experts expressed concerns about too few officers, inadequate equipment and other deficiencies in the agency, prompting discussions about the future.

The board previously mulled contracting with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department or converting into a campus safety officer agency, but rejected those options.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.