Hundreds of Durham police officers and firefighters could see a boost in their paychecks this year under a plan that increases starting salaries and annual raises.
City staff members are recommending a plan to adjust pay to meet the average of the starting salaries in 10 cities in the Carolinas and Virginia, including Charlotte, Greensboro, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, said Human Resources Director Regina Youngblood.
The city employs about 480 police officers and 300 firefighters. Police recruits start at $33,000, which is between $856 and $9,009 less than the peer cities, according to a report.
The Police Department’s starting rate for recruits would increase 12.2 percent to $37,029. The starting minimum for officers would increase from $37,000 to $38,790.
Fire Department recruits’ pay would increase from $33,000 to $34,388. Firefighters’ minimum pay would go from $33,417 to $36,098.
Most officers and firefighters would experience an increase in their pay or total benefits package under the change, Youngblood told the City Council on Thursday.
Under the proposal, Durham’s starting pay for recruits and police officers would still be behind five and six other cities respectively.
City officials determined they couldn’t afford to meet the higher starting pay rates of the other cities, Youngblood said. Instead their strategy increases base pay rates some, while also boosting annual merit increases by 5 percent, which is higher or equal to nine of the other cities. Currently, the city offers annual merit raises of 3.25 percent.
“We are not the top pay, but we are in line with our peers and we are providing a faster step progression than most,” Youngblood said.
The goal is to reduce turnover and increase retention of employees who have been trained for their positions, city officials said.
It costs about $55,654 to train and pay police recruits and $53,189 to train and pay fire recruits. Over the years, Police Department leaders have outlined the challenges of operating with vacancies, such as having fewer officers out on patrol.
If approved by the City Council at its Feb. 6 meeting, the plan would be retroactive to Jan. 21 and would cost nearly $1.8 million this fiscal year.
“It’s quite expensive, but I am utterly convinced by the data you presented in terms of our need to be competitive and to keep our police officers well compensated and keep them in Durham,” Councilman Steve Schewel told Youngblood.
Police and fire salaries haven’t been adjusted since 2008, when the current plans were implemented.
The increase would boost morale and attract and retain officers in a competitive market, Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said.
“The considerations that are being made today, the officers appreciate it,” Davis said. “I know the citizens will appreciate it, and I certainly do.”
Forty-nine police officers, about 10 percent of the force, left over the past year. About seven firefighters left.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden said people are waiting to see what the City Council does to determine whether to stay in their jobs.
“So I am glad we are going to be able to move forward in a positive way,” she said. “It’s hard to put a price on policing.”
The Durham City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 in Council Chambers at City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza.