Raleigh Report

Raleigh raises pay for 2,100 city jobs, with biggest going to police and firefighters

More than half of city government jobs are getting a boost in salary, with the biggest raises going to police officers and firefighters, many of whom picketed City Hall last year for higher wages.

City Manager Ruffin Hall on Tuesday announced his decision to adjust the minimum salaries of 2,101 city positions, 1,182 of which are in the police and fire departments. Raises in the police and fire departments range from 6 to 13 percent, Hall said, while most of the other positions will get raises ranging from 2 to 4 percent.

The “pay adjustments,” as Hall called them, are both highly-anticipated and unexpected. They also come a day after the Durham City Council approved raises for its public safety employees.

Raleigh council members in June granted 3 percent raises to all city employees but declined to grant bigger raises to police and firefighters, some of whom claimed that they couldn’t afford to work for the city much longer because of low pay. Raleigh pays entry-level police and firefighters the lowest salaries of any local government in Wake County.

A divided City Council at the time opted to wait to make bigger pay adjustments until a consultant completed an audit of Raleigh’s compensation system. The consultant recently completed part of the audit, finding that many city employees are underpaid compared to workers in comparable local governments in North Carolina and across the U.S.

The Raleigh Chapter of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association issued a statement in support of Hall’s move.

“We are thankful and encouraged by the proposed pay adjustments as it pertains to adequate pay for police professionals,” said Jamie Rigsbee, the Raleigh chapter president. “This is a step in the right direction, and we are hopeful for the continued engagement of city leaders in the coming budget year to put Raleigh at the top of the pay ranges to recruit and retain the best.”

Matthew Cooper, president of the Raleigh Police Protective Association, said the study was validation of what his organization has been saying for years. He said Raleigh’s higher-ranking police officers, who mostly get 6 percent pay bumps, could still use a little more.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I want the city to remember that they need to reward the veteran officers and detective officers that have been here for years,” Cooper said. “It’s too bad that it took a pay study for them to acknowledge this situation.”

The pay adjustment will cost the city $6.7 million a year and re-categorizes Raleigh’s pay structure so that the city has 260 job classifications instead of 750. The budget for this year is about $859 million.

Raleigh usually adjusts employee pay when it approves its annual budget each June. So Tuesday’s move, which will take effect April 1, is rare.

Hall, who has the authority to grant raises of up to 20 percent without the City Council’s consent, sought to move quickly because Raleigh’s wage offerings in some positions are far below those in other cities. Starting salaries in Raleigh are, on average, 12 percent lower than starting salaries in comparable cities, according to the consultant’s study.

Hall called the pay adjustments a “first step” in helping Raleigh attract and retain talented employees. The city last completed a compensation study in 2003, but Raleigh leaders didn’t fully implement its recommendations.

“By no means does this mean we’re finished. We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Hall said of Raleigh’s “antiquated” compensation system.

“We didn’t get here overnight,” he said. “So we can’t fix everything by tomorrow morning.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the city waited to issue sweeping raises because it wanted long-term wage changes to an array of positions, not just pay bumps that would apply to individual workers. This change applies to jobs, not just the people in those jobs.

“The ones that were most out-of-whack were the ones that got the biggest bump to bring them back into alignment with other cities,” McFarlane said. “It’s more than just taking one individual position and bumping it up.”

The consultant compared Raleigh to North Carolina’s largest cities, as well as 11 other mid-sized cities such as Austin, Denver, Memphis, Miami, Omaha, Richmond, Va., Virginia Beach and Kansas City, Mo.

The city plans to boost entry-level police officer salaries to $40,000, up 13 percent from the current annual salary of $35,310. Entry-level firefighter salaries jump to $37,018 from $33,653 per year.

Once the changes take effect, Raleigh’s pay for entry-level police officers will rank 7th out of Wake’s 12 municipalities, and its entry-level firefighter pay will rank 4th out of seven Wake fire departments run by town governments, according to city staff.

Outside of public safety, the move will give raises ranging from 2 to 4 percent to employees in the parks, information technology and transportation departments. It’ll give 3 percent raises to 393 positions that have high turnover, including equipment operators and 911 dispatchers.

The move also accelerates raises for Raleigh’s lowest-level full-time employees affected by the new “Living Wage” policy, which the City Council adopted last month. When passed, council members vowed to pay its lowest-level employees $13.76 an hour instead of $12.01 an hour.

The policy was expected to take effect next fiscal year, which starts in July. Tuesday’s move expedites the change to April. The city plans to give each employee a letter that explains how they’re affected by the new job classifications and pay adjustments.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht