Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath says his department will need 60 new firefighters, three platoon EMS coordinators, a training captain, an inventory specialist and three additional battalion chiefs to keep up with growing demand, but he’s willing to forgo it all for another year if it means his firefighters get raises.
The budget proposal McGrath sent to City Manager Ruffin Hall shows the fire department expects 911 calls to rise 3.7 percent in the coming year, to about 41,000. But McGrath says he won’t press for new staff until the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018, because he wants to ensure that firefighters get paid better this year.
“We said we’re going to hold the line for one year so that the boss can do everything he possibly can to give our employees a pay raise,” McGrath said.
McGrath said in an interview that Hall told all department heads that employee compensation would be his top concern with this year’s budget.
Hall in February raised wages for 2,101 city positions, including more than 500 of the fire department’s 611 employees. The raises ranged from 6 to 13 percent for lower-level firefighters and 2 to 4 percent for others.
Hall announced the “wage adjustment,” as he called it, after reviewing a partial audit of city wages. The new wages went into effect April 1.
On Tuesday, Hall proposed a new pay structure that could affect all 4,000 city employees. It calls for new minimum and maximum salaries for most city positions, but it’s unclear how many employees – in the fire department or elsewhere – would get raises. But the city estimates the changes, if adopted, would cost Raleigh an additional $11 million in next year’s budget, which begins July 1.
Hall declined to comment on the proposed fire budget, which McGrath submitted in December, or the specifics of the citywide budget plan Hall plans to reveal in May.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane also declined to comment on the future of city employee wages.
“The implementation of the compensation study is a high priority,” McFarlane said. “But it is too early to speculate on exact numbers.”
The Insurance Services Office, which grades fire departments based on response times and other factors, last year gave Raleigh the best score possible, and McGrath said that distinction won’t be affected by his budget proposal.
He attributed Raleigh’s high score to his staff, “not because of the toys we have.” McGrath added that he thinks Hall “is an extremely fair man who cares deeply” about city workers.
“I don’t think the raise they got puts them over the top, but I think, you know, we tell them how wonderful they are sometimes, we’ve got to show it to them,” McGrath said. “That’s what we’re trying to do this year, is to say you’re the number one priority and we’re gonna make do.”