Raleigh firefighters, police demand larger raises
Posted June 7, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Hundreds of Raleigh police and firefighters and their supporters packed City Hall Tuesday night during a Raleigh City Council budget hearing, saying a proposed merit raise for city employees isn't enough compensation for their ranks.
City Manager Ruffin Hall last month proposed an $858.6 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including an average raise of 3.25 percent for city workers.
Firefighters called for a 7 percent raise, saying starting salaries in the Raleigh Fire Department are less than they were 30 years ago when adjusted for inflation.
Supporters carrying signs saying "We can't afford to live in the city we protect" and "Would you do this job 56 hours a week for $11.22 an hour?" filled the City Council chambers, all overflow rooms and the City Hall lobby.
City leaders sat attentively as several people, including firefighter Jennifer Paterson, shared their stories.
“I proudly stand here today doing the profession that I hoped I’d have the ability to do but I’ve got to be honest with you, putting on the uniform every day is becoming increasingly difficult,” she said.
Keith Wilder, president of the Raleigh Professional Fire Fighters Association, said at least seven city firefighters receive public assistance because they cannot make ends meet on their salaries.
"For the professional, compassionate and heroic services these dedicated professionals provide to our citizens, one Raleigh firefighter receiving public assistance is one too many," Wilder said, adding that Raleigh leaders shouldn't be afraid to add "best-paid city employees" to its list accolades from recent years.
Raleigh police likewise said their ranks needed more than the proposed merit raise. Jamie Rigsbee, local chapter president of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said officers deserve to see their pay go up by 5 to 10 percent, noting other area police departments have higher starting salaries.
Matthew Cooper, of the Raleigh Police Protective Association, said officers have met increased challenges of a growing city without proper pay.
“Neighboring municipalities during this time have dramatically increased the salaries of their police force. In most cases, offering salaries and compensation packages that greatly eclipse what is currently being offered by the city of Raleigh,” he said.
Police and firefighters said Raleigh ranks at the bottom in terms of pay when compared to the neighboring towns of Cary, Apex and Morrisville. Councilman David Cox spoke with firefighters and police officers before the meeting and said he is concerned that they are tempted to go to other municipalities.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin agrees there should be a salary increase, but believes the city council must do their homework before it is approved.
“We have a perspective that we have to do it fairly within this compensation study,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said the goal is to make sure the compensation study is done next year so that the city has a new plan in place to address the concerns. The pay study, however, was met with concerns.
“To tell officers and employees that you’re doing a pay study is like saying the check is in the mail, but is there really a check,” said Rigsbee.