PARKERSBURG — Discussion of pay incentives for police and firefighters yielded no agreement on a path forward at a Parkersburg City Council Finance Committee meeting Friday.
An ordinance originally proposed to grant 50-cents-an-hour raises for firefighters and police officers when they reach 10, 15 and 20 years of service was amended to $1 an hour by the Personnel Committee on Aug. 9. A day later, council voted 5-4 to table the matter after debate over the long-term budget impact of the larger increase.
Mayor Tom Joyce said this week the 50 cents proposal was projected to add about $13 million to police and fire pension liabilities. The $1-an-hour approach would take that to more than $15 million.
At Friday’s meeting in the Municipal Building, Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl made a motion to forward the 50 cents option to the full council, but it died for lack of a second.
Citing the fact that firefighters work 54-hour weeks and therefore more base hours in a year than police officers, Kuhl made a motion to forward an ordinance giving them the same total boost in pay at each milestone, which worked out to 50 cents an hour for police and 37 cents for fire. Joyce said earlier this week pay increases have been similarly prorated in the past.
“That way it’s all even. They get the same amount per year,” Kuhl said.
That motion also died for lack of a second.
With no more motions offered, the meeting was adjourned.
At the meeting’s start, Joyce reiterated the original proposal was made to address the ongoing struggle to recruit and retain police, not just in Parkersburg but around the state and country.
It would follow a pay adjustment and $10,000 signing bonus for certified officers approved in 2018.
Police officers are eligible to retire and draw their pension once they serve 20 years and turn 50. Increasing the pay of longer-serving officers might entice some to work longer, as that would increase their pension benefits when they do retire, Joyce said.
Police Chief Joe Martin said there are 11 officers eligible to retire by the end of 2022 and nine vacancies in the department now, down from 15 recently.
“We’ve been working on that 15 number for two years. And we only got it down to eight” before a retirement Friday, he said. “It’ll take three more years to get this fixed. Add 11 to that number and good luck.”
Martin said officers eligible to retire in the next six months indicated they would stay on if an adjustment like what was proposed was made.
Joyce said he pitched the same amount for firefighters because there is no difference in pay for firefighters who have worked for the city five years or 15 years if they are the same rank.
Councilman J.R. Carpenter said he felt the budget process would be the best time to discuss the matter, something echoed by Kuhl and Council President Zach Stanley. Joyce acknowledged mid-year revisions are not ideal but said the intent was to address the retention problem as soon as possible.
“This is a huge problem here right today. Not next July,” Martin said.
Kuhl said her primary reservation is that the money to fund the increase would come from the stabilization fund. Some other sources were discussed but none agreed upon.
Councilwoman Jesse Cottrille suggested more time was needed to find a solution.
“Maybe we should keep looking,” she said.
Councilwoman Wendy Tuck asked if discussing a raise and then not passing one would hurt retention efforts.
“It’s going to be a hit to morale,” Stanley said. “But at the same time we never offered it.”
Council’s next regular meeting is slated for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The only salary item on the agenda is the final reading of a change to the way firefighter EMT pay is determined.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Estimated one-year cost of police and fire pay raises
50 cents an hour
* Fire — $118,366
* Police — $65,577
* Fire — $236,732
* Police — $131,154
37 cents for Fire/50 cents for Police
* Fire — $91,746
* Police — $65,577
Source: Parkersburg Finance Director Eric Jiles
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