Raleigh Report

Raleigh City Council rejects requested pay boost for emergency responders

The city’s emergency responders are unlikely to get the pay boost many of them are asking for.

The Raleigh City Council, which is crafting a budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, signaled Monday that it will likely stick with a proposed 3 to 3.5 percent pay raise for public safety employees.

The Raleigh Police Protective Association and the Raleigh Professional Fire Fighters Association held a news conference outside City Hall last week to push for a 15 percent pay increase over the next two years.

But during budget discussions Monday, an effort to raise emergency responders’ starting salaries to “market standards” failed.

Councilman David Cox sought to give a pay boost to public safety employees who are paid less than the local market standard. Noting that starting salaries for Raleigh police are about $34,000 – $7,000 less than officers in Knightdale – Cox motioned for city staff to investigate average starting police salaries in Wake County and adjust Raleigh’s policy accordingly.

Starting pay should be about $40,000 for police officers and $36,000 for firefighters, Cox said. He estimated it would cost the city less than $500,000.

“When we look at the starting recruits coming in in 2015, I think we had a 63 percent attrition rate for our police officers,” Cox said. “It’s been quite common anecdotal evidence that our officers are coming in and getting trained and then leaving to go to higher-paying communities and departments.”

Though a 4-3 majority supported the effort, it failed because Raleigh codes require five favorable votes for a motion to gain approval. Council members Corey Branch, Kay Crowder and Russ Stephenson said they supported Cox’s motion. Mayor Nancy McFarlane, councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin and councilman Dickie Thompson opposed it.

Councilman Bonner Gaylord, who represents northwest Raleigh, was absent from the meeting. Gaylord is out of town, McFarlane said.

The council will vote on the full budget proposal later this month.

McFarlane and the others agreed the city should boost pay for emergency responders, but they said they want to do so after reviewing employee salaries holistically. The city is spending $150,000 to study how Raleigh’s employee salaries – not just those in public safety – compare locally and nationally, said Lou Buonpane, the city manager’s chief of staff.

The study will likely be done in the spring, Buonpane said.

McFarlane said it would set a bad precedent to grant a big bonus to one class of employees but not others.

“It’s difficult to start pulling out pieces without a comprehensive look and understanding on what that impact is on everybody, which is why we’re doing that compensation study,” McFarlane said. “I know it’s frustrating to have to wait for it, but sometimes those decisions are best made in the context of the whole organization.”

Baldwin said she’s committed to having the raises in place in June 2017, following the compensation study when the council addresses the following year’s budget.

“It will be part of our new budget (next year),” she said. “That’s our commitment. I want to do it the right way.”

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