City finance committee approves police/fire pay raises

City finance committee approves police/fire pay raises
January 14
00:00 2016
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery speaks during a meeting of the finance committee on Monday.

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

The City’s finance committee approved a plan on Monday, Jan. 11, to increase police and fire pay that’s expected to pass the full City Council next week.

The finance committee approved a plan that would raise the minimum pay for sworn police officers and certified firefighters by 7.5 percent on Feb. 1, with those paid below that getting an adjustment so their salaries meet the new minimum. In addition, there would be a two percent annual supplemental raise on Feb. 1 for those with at least one year of tenure that, pending approval in future budgets, would continue to happen annually in January. This is in addition to normal merit raises in July. All members of the City Council were in attendance and expressed support for the plan, which is expected to pass unanimously before the council on Tuesday.

The plan addresses retention issues with police officers and firefighters as they leave for other departments that pay more. Winston-Salem is behind other Triad and other North Carolina cities with populations over 100,000 in police and fire pay.

“If we’re losing the brightest and best, we’re not being responsible when it comes to public safety,” said City Council Member James Taylor, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

Derwin Montgomery was among the council members who said he supported the plan, but also wanted to look at pay for other city employees and benefits as well, such as 401k contribution. A 2014 analysis found that 80 percent of positions in the city paid less than similar jobs in other markets in the state. With the exception of police officers, Winston-Salem does not contribute to an employee’s 401k. Contributing to an employee’s 401k is a common practice for cities and towns.

“I’m not in any way lowering the concern on police and fire, but just raising the concern for the rest of the employees that we have because of the fact that they are not organized like police and fire are,” said Montgomery.

Captain Danny Watts was among two officers that spoke about police pay before the City Council last year, bringing attention to the issue. He was among several officers in attendance at the meeting. Watts, who at the time was in charge of recruiting for the Winston-Salem Police Department, said he was glad the City Council is taking action.

“We’re still going to be a little below a lot of the other departments, so there are going to be departments that offer more pay, officers will have those opportunities, but I think the people who want to be in Winston-Salem ….  as far as living here and have roots here, this is going to help them stay,” said Watts, who was recently promoted to head the WSPD Professional Standards Division.

David Pollard, president of the Winston-Salem Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he was also glad that it was being addressed, but has heard many complaints among firefighters about compression.

“This compression is going to cause even more people to walk out the door than retaining them,” said Pollard.

He also said benefits, like 401k and a greater contribution on health insurance need, to be dealt with. Health insurance has been going up annually by about 5 percent for city employees, which Pollard said has been making the small merit raises in the past few years feel negligible for many firefighters.

The money for the police/fire pay plan comes out of the general fund. The City can cover it because it had more revenue than expected from sources like property taxes, registered motor vehicles, and an increase in sales tax collection, which are expected to continue in future years. City Manager Lee Garrity told the City Council that to do more than the regular market and merit increases for non-public safety city employees in the 2016/2017 budget would require looking at taxes and other revenue sources. A draft of the budget is scheduled to be presented to the finance committee in March and approved by the City Council in June for implementation in July.

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