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Durham property tax might go up for police, firefighter raises

About 100 people were asked to leave a public meeting Friday at Durham’s City Hall due to a fire code violation, according to Mayor Bill Bell’s office.

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DURHAM, N.C. — The city might need to raise property taxes to fund raises for public-safety employees, according to presentations by the city manager and a consulting firm at a crowded meeting on Friday morning.

Representatives of Waters consulting firm and City Manager Patrick Baker recommended a 6-cent increase to pay for raises for police officers, firefighters and other public-safety workers.

Police union leaders said they asked for a $7,000 across-the-board raise to alleviate what they called a tough financial situation for officers.

"An officer should not be in the position to have to decide between the police department that they want to be a part of and supporting their families," Police Chief Jose Lopez said.

Lopez said many of his officers are being recruited by neighboring departments that offer more money, and leaders of police unions agreed with his assessment.

"Because of our pay situation in the past and our pay practice in the past, we have made ourselves a lucrative target for a whole lot of police agencies," said Andy Miller, president of North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance.

The starting salary for a Durham police officer is about $30,000. Officers would have to work for a decade or more to earn the starting salary offered by other cities, Lopez said.

"Our salaries have fallen behind for so long," said David Addison, president of the Greater Triangle Police Benevolent Association.

Underscoring officers' concerns was a crowd in excess of 250 – mostly police and firefighters – at the budget meeting. Dozens of officers sat in the hallways after they were asked to leave the meeting room due to a fire code violation.

City leaders said they recognized public-safety workers' salaries need to go up but questioned how to best do that.

"To see them (police officers) leave for other areas is extremely frustrating and depressing," Councilman Howard Clement said.

The City Council rejected the proposed 6-cent increase, which would have raised property taxes for the owner of a $150,00 home from $750 to $840.

"And that was just intolerable," Clement said.

Council members indicated they would, instead, support a 3- to 4-cent increase to Durham's property tax, set at 50 cents per $100 of a home's value.

"I think we somehow need to show they public we're more efficient in what we're doing in various ways," Mayor Bill Bell said.

Baker must develop a new budget proposal, which he will present to the City Council at another public meeting on June 9. The council has until the beginning of July to adopt a new budget.


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