The Fire Department wants to see the town increase the pay plan for its firemen, just as it is considering doing for its employees.
Garner Fire Department’s staff are not considered town employees though the town pays a considerable amount of the department’s annual operating budget.
The fire department gets money from both the town and Wake County in a 54-46 split.
The town council approved a 2.5-percent pay plan increase for two positions last month. The increase does not necessarily raise salaries for town employees, unless they are new employees and are making the minimum pay or unless they are within 2.5 percent of the maximum they can make in that position.
The pay plan increase actually increases the amount employees can make and increases the starting salary for jobs. An independent study recommended the town increase its pay ranges by 2.5 percent for all of its employees.
The Garner Fire Department is 12 percent behind market value, Garner Fire Chief Matt Poole, said at a town Law & Finance Committee meeting. The committee is made up of a mix of town finance staff and town council members to work out budget issues.
Poole said he understood that it wasn’t the town’s responsibility to shoulder all of the cost but asked them to consider raising their cost share of the same pay plan increase they did for all town employees. Wake County has its own pay grade system.
Poole said, when fireman go to work in Garner they don’t see themselves as an outside entity working in the town.
“When they go to a wreck or go to a fire alarm inside the town of Garner, they don’t think they are providing a service as a contracted person,” Poole said. “This is a Garner fireman standing beside a Garner cop doing their job. So it becomes a morale issue because they are dramatically underfunded for the service they provide with the certifications they have. How do I say we’re different when we provide that same type of service.”
Town council member Kathy Behringer expressed interest in the town doing its part to keep up with the market value but said it wouldn’t be in this budget year.
Town council member Ken Marshburn said he would feel more comfortable if it was studied more.
Poole said in an interview that none of his employees have reached their maximum salary but many of his employees are making the minimum, and an increase in the pay plan would help.
“The starting salary for a firefighter is $30,400, which if you compare that to a police officer of $37,000 is a large difference,” Poole said.
Ten percent of employees in the fire department are at the bottom of their pay range because of new hires and no raises during the recession, Poole said.
He said the reason for turnover in the department is most often because of low pay.
“My biggest concern is to make sure firefighters are adequately paid,” he said. “To make sure our firefighters are getting the money they should be getting based on their certification and the service they provide.”