The time hasn’t just come for substantial raises for police officers and firefighters in Raleigh, it has long since passed. The city’s police officers lag behind others in the Triangle – the Capital City can do better and must do better.
The City Council needs to display a sense of urgency about pay for public safety workers. City Manager Ruffin Hall has commissioned a study of how Raleigh’s pay compares, but the outcome of that study is already clear: Pay is inadequate.
An entry-level police officer makes $35,309; a firefighter has a base of under $34,000. This, in a community where the average cost of a home in the Triangle is $277,400. Firefighters and police can’t afford anything close to that.
No wonder there is grumbling in the ranks. There should be. And there ought to be grumbling as well among residents, many of whom can testify to the ways in which they’ve been helped by firefighters and police officers.
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Public safety workers should be given raises immediately, even if it takes a property tax increase to get it done. Citizens would likely support such action, and support it strongly. Raising these salaries isn’t building a structure or creating a program or something hard to define.
Raises are easy to justify: If the city doesn’t pay more, it will quickly get to the point where it cannot find good people to take these jobs. Why would people continue to work for a wage that is below the level at which a person can support a spouse and raise one child? The answer is they will not. They cannot be blamed for seeking employment elsewhere.
Many of these individuals are young people with young families. They’re not dreaming of getting rich. But they do want to provide for their spouses and their children.
And absent large salary hikes, fewer and fewer of those who serve and protect in this city and this county will be able to do so. For they’re caught in a conundrum: The city and county are growing and booming in many ways in terms of building and the revitalization of downtown, but rising property costs are meaning that firefighters and police can’t even afford to live in the communities they serve.