Faced with police departures and the threat of more, Raleigh city council members agreed Tuesday to raise salaries for sworn officers, uniformed firefighters and other underpaid city employees, to the tune of $8.5 million in pay increases (some as much as 13.25 percent) through July 2018.

The vote came after the presentation of a study of eighty-four cities’ employee pay
levels, with Raleigh coming in only a touch on the low side, by 1.6 percent. But persistent responses from law enforcement and fire workers that an average salary wasn’t good enough appeared to speak loudly to the board. Both starting police and firefighters will receive raises that will result in, among other things, a starting level of $40,000 annually for police.

Human resources manager Steve Jones notes that it was unusual to hike salaries with work far from complete on the next budget year, which starts in July, but says it is time for Raleigh to walk in step with other large markets.

“Our last true market analysis more than thirteen years ago,” Jones said. “We realize we will not be able to fix all our issues at one time. We need to make pay adjustments within our existing structure.”

Late last year, Wake County commissioners passed a living wage for county workers and Raleigh city council members followed suit last month. The raises for public safety and other employees put city and county in line with a national trend toward adequate compensation—paying public workers enough money to meet basic needs in the cities where their jobs are located.

“Establishing a living wage gives us the ability to attract and retain employees who are committed to public service, who will help us achieve our goals, and make Raleigh such a wonderful place to live, work, and play,” Jones said in a statement obtained by the INDY.

Shoring up pay

Human resources and financial staff listed the following priorities for raises to take effect in April:

• Employees shown to be 15 percent below market levels, who will get a 2 percent raise and those 20 percent below, who will get 4 percent raises.

• Employees in high turnover positions, who will get a 3 percent hike.

• Those out of alignment with Raleigh’s living wage standard, which will be set at $28,621 annually.

• The 1,182 police and fire officers found to be “misaligned or significantly misaligned” with market rates, who will get raises of as much as 13.25 percent. Starting pay for these positions will be raised to $40,000 annually.

Efforts to reach leaders of unions representing public safety workers were unsuccessful Tuesday night, but Raleigh Police Protective Association president Matt Cooper said last month that eighty-six people had left the Raleigh Police Department, sixty-three of them sworn officers.

“Our ability to respond to civil disturbances, protests, and mass casualty incidents have been compromised,” Cooper told the INDY then. “Lack of pay along with the belief that the city will not cross over to compensate us in the future is a main factor in why officers are deciding to leave the Raleigh Police Department.”

The $40,000 figure for starting pay will represent a significant increase. Current starting pay for a Raleigh police officer is $34,281.59; for firefighters, it’s $32,673.73.

Interim budget director Ben Canada said financial planners are reserving money for employee merit increases next fiscal year in addition to the hikes announced this evening.