At the city’s pre-budget public hearing on Tuesday night, police officers and firefighters renewed their calls for higher pay for first responders, telling city council that officers are leaving Raleigh for greener pastures in the county and elsewhere.

Raleigh Police Protective Association president Matt Cooper told the council that eighty-six people had “left RPD,” with sixty-three of those consisting of sworn officers; he also said that around twenty-five percent of those sworn officers went to other law enforcement agencies, and half of that number went to other municipalities within Wake County.

Starting pay for a Raleigh police officer begins at $34,281.59; for firefighters, it’s $32,673.73.

“Our ability to respond to civil disturbances, protests, and mass casualty incidents have been compromised,” Cooper said. “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.”

Cooper also dismissed the ongoing pay study that would place Raleigh at the 50th percentile among comparable markets for officer pay, which is expected to conclude at the month. “Fifty percent is not an acceptable level. Fifty percent is only average,” Cooper said. “Raleigh has not won all of the accolades it continues to receive by being average.”

Teamsters Local 391 vice president Rick Armstrong cited increased “scrutiny” as a reason why officers need raises.

“There’s a significant scrutiny by activists and community groups with high expectations of our officers,” Armstrong said. “If we are going to have higher expectations, we need to compensate them appropriately. The job is becoming more dangerous. Assault by firearms increased by sixty percent against police officers in 2016. Officers are literally being shot in the field simply because they are wearing a badge.”

Overall, officer fatalities in the field were up about ten percent from 2015 and sixty-four officers were killed by firearms in 2016, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund, up from forty-one in 2015 and right in line with Armstrong’s numbers. It’s also worth noting that in 2016, 963 people were shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database. Thirty-three of those shooting deaths happened in North Carolina.

The purpose of the hearing was for the public to provide comment, so the City Council didn’t respond during the hearing. “We’re spending a large amount of money and a large amount of time doing this pay study. It’s complicated,” mayor Nancy McFarlane told the INDY after the meeting. “Think about four thousand [city] employees and seven hundred different job titles, and how do you reorganize that in a way where people feel that it’s working well for them not only now, but in the future? I think that’s especially important for our first responders. It’s a tough time to be a policeman right now.”

The only other item pushed for the next budget during the public hearing was the need for a crossing guard at Leadmine Elementary School.

McFarlane said the council’s budget priorities for the next year include that pay study, transit, and affordable housing. At the afternoon meeting, council member David Cox raised the possibility of the staff studying inclusionary zoning, which requires the creation of affordable housing units along with all new development. Current state law doesn’t allow it, and McFarlane opposed the idea based on that, but three towns in the state – Davidson, Chapel Hill, and Manteo – have passed these ordinances anyway.

“A lot of it will depend on, as we start these budget workshops and reports from different departments, on what they’re seeing and what their needs are,” McFarlane said, stressing the need to take care of the stuff that’s “not so sexy” like sewer systems.

“A couple of years ago, we had three hundred million dollars in needs for parks,” she added. “So we need to make sure that, besides just getting the cool new stuff, we’re taking care of stuff we have.”