Police, fire pay committee to hold inaugural meeting
FAYETTEVILLE — Police and fire representatives will start to hash out everything to do with pay raises when they sit down with city officials for an inaugural committee meeting Monday.
The Pay Plan Committee, consisting of half the City Council, the detective and fire captain, and city administrators will explore ways to get uniformed employees closer to the market pay rate. The committee’s inception came on the heels of a compensation plan the council adopted in March.
A study from Fayetteville-based Johanson Group found police officers’ pay lagged 15.6 percent behind the average pay of comparable agencies in 22 regional cities, including those in Northwest and Central Arkansas; Lawrence, Kan.; Springfield, Mo.; and Stillwater, Okla. Firefighters came up 12.5 percent short. Nonuniformed employees fell 11.5 percent behind their counterparts.
The council decided to
put $1.7 million, mostly from the general fund reserve, toward citywide pay raises. This year’s budget is $155 million. Police officers and firefighters, who are on a step pay plan, got an average 6 percent raise. Merit employees, or the city’s nonuniformed workers, received a 4 percent pay hike.
The pay raises adopt the entire Johanson plan for merit employees and 25 percent of the plan for step employees.
Detective Leonard Graves, the selected police representative, wants to change that.
“It seems like this committee may have four or five different items on the agenda, but our biggest one is to implement the salary survey that was presented to the city at 100 percent for sworn law enforcement and fire personnel,” he said. “We only got a percentage of that number.”
The city calculates what raises it can give through a combination of available reserves balanced with anticipated growth in sales tax revenue and surplus money, re-evaluating potential raises every year.
Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said last week that sales tax collections are 4 percent higher than budgeted for the year. That represents about $620,000 in extra revenue, with about $460,000 going into the general fund, he said.
Graves said police understand money doesn’t grow on trees and was glad to hear about the sales tax growth. Sales tax makes up about 60 percent of the city’s general fund revenue.
“We just want to come up with an innovative way to fund the rest of the raises,” Graves said. “We want to get this wage and benefit survey as a standing committee. That’s beneficial because even in years when we don’t do surveys, we still meet and look at numbers and try to project what we’re going on.”
The city adopted a compensation philosophy a decade ago and revised it in 2012. Part of that revision entailed doing a market survey every four years and using the results to influence pay raises. Before this year, the city last used a study to help guide pay raises in 2013 under a different consultant.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan set four agenda items. The committee will look at whether the market study should cover just Northwest Arkansas agencies or continue using comparison cities in surrounding states. The method of compensation, whether it’s merit-based, a step plan or a blend, also should be determined. The pay plan’s implementation over time and how often pay studies are done also will be up for discussion.
“We’ve got to figure out how often we’re going to meet, but we’ll meet as long as is necessary, I can tell you that,” Jordan said.
The city’s firefighters work in such an efficient manner that it ultimately saves the city money, said Capt. Jimmy Vinyard, the selected Fire Department representative. Firefighter pay should reflect those savings, he said.
“I think we’re providing an above-market job,” Vinyard said. “You can look at a few of the departments around us. Our call volume compared to theirs, their staffing levels compared to ours. We’re smaller and doing more calls.”
The city should also reprioritize where it puts its money, Vinyard said. A topto-bottom look at everything from parks and trails to recycling would serve as a place to start.
“I think we’re providing a lot for our citizens,” he said. “But are we taking away from, possibly, the strength of the fire and police departments in providing these other services that these other communities don’t provide that we do provide?”
This committee won’t be the first of its kind. In 2005, city administration under then-Mayor Dan Coody established the Employee Wage and Benefit Committee, but it dissolved after setting the guidelines the administration uses today to calculate pay increases.
Members of the Fayetteville Fire Department respond July 7 to the report of smoke in a building in downtown Fayetteville. The smoke was the result of working being done in the building.