A market survey commissioned by Wake County found that county fire departments – including Garner’s – were well below other labor markets in each firefighter position, from probationary firefighter to fire chief.
Those findings are similar to the results of a study done by Garner’s fire department last year.
The last time the county conducted such a study was in 2008, also the last time they implemented an increase.
Wake County presented their market study to the Wake County Fire Commission Thursday night.
According to the county, county fire departments’ staff members were between 16.57 percent and 41.9 percent behind market level depending on the position.
As a result, the county is proposing raising its salaries to market level. For instance, a firefighter’s salary would go from $30,400 to $36,692. That differs slightly from Garner’s proposal. Garner is proposing raising their beginning firefighter to $36,183, over two years.
“I think both parties are wanting to solve this problem, so I think we are on the right track,” Garner Fire Chief Matt Poole said. “I get a sense of support from the town council and Wake County of at least beginning to rectify this situation.”
Other fire departments benefiting from the county’s study include Eastern Wake, Wendell, Wake Forest, Fairview, Bayleaf and Rolesville Fire Departments.
The study also recommended adding a few job classifications.
Implementing the increases would cost the county $313,075, factoring in the cost shares with other departments.
The town of Garner pays roughly 54 percent of the fire department’s budget, while the county pays 46 percent.
The fire commission’s board members voiced their approval of the study.
“I think I’m going to apply for a job,” board member Billy Myrick said.
“I think the information presented tonight is the result of research that is well done,” Morrisville Fire Chief Todd Wright said. “If this plan can be approved, I think it will go a long way in retention in Wake County Fire Service. This was long overdue.”
The Wake Fire Commission will vote on whether they will include the increases in their budget at a March 17 meeting. If it is approved, it will go to the county commissioners.
Garner contracted with a group to conduct its own pay study for the fire department over the summer. It revealed pay for the Garner Fire Department was about 15 percent behind other fire departments in the area similar to Garner’s. The starting salary for a Garner Firefighter I position is $30,400, which is more than $6,000 behind the market average.
The study recommended implementing a pay grade scale and setting the hiring rate for firefighters at $36,183.
There have been disagreements in the past between the town and the county over how much of the department’s cost should be borne by each entity.
Although the fire department is paid for by both the county and town, the town council verbally agreed in November to commit more than $260,500 in the next budget year to increase the salaries and benefits for employees in the Garner Fire Department, whether the county helps or not.
But the county has expressed interest in helping. If they do, Garner would only have to pay around $143,000 instead.
The town and county will have to come to an agreement on which study they would use, Poole said. “After that is determined we would figure out an implementation process,” he said.
“I think morale, just in seeing the conversations, has increased in the fire department.”