At last week's Raleigh City Council meeting, the city's first responders renewed their calls for raises—and once again, Mayor Nancy McFarlane stressed the need to wait.
Raleigh Police Protective Association president Matt Cooper told the council that, in the past year, sixty-three sworn RPD officers—the police force has an authorized strength of eight hundred officers—had left the department, with about a quarter of them going to other law enforcement agencies, and half of those going to other agencies within the county.
"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 said. The starting pay for city cops is $35,310, according to a WRAL analysis, lower than every other municipality in Wake County.
Tyler Pierce of Raleigh Firefighters United echoed Cooper's sentiment: "The current pay system provides a very bleak outlook for those who want to make this profession a career in Raleigh. I know you can draft a budget that is both fiscally responsible to the citizens and provide fair pay to public safety employees."
The starting salary for Raleigh firefighters is just $32,673. By comparison, Cary starts its firefighters at $35,984. Even in Apex, whose population is one-tenth that of Raleigh's, firefighters start at $35,880 per year.
In June, council members, led by David Cox, nearly provided a one-time bonus to raise first responders' starting pay to "market standard," about $40,000 per year for police officers and $36,000 for firefighters. That motion—which McFarlane opposed on the basis that "the decision is best made in the context of the entire organization"—failed 4–3.
She wanted to hold off until the city had completed its "pay study," which will help the city determine how its employees' pay compares to similar markets around the country. The $150,000 study is scheduled to conclude by the end of the month. Even so, the council is nonetheless likely to have another fight on its hands, as Cooper noted that the study sought to merely bring city employees up to the fiftieth percentile of comparable markets—and no more.
"Fifty percent is not an acceptable level. Fifty percent is only average," Cooper said. "This plan will not attract quality applicants, nor will it reward and retain the excellent officers we have."