Ga. firefighters, cops seek higher wages

Milledgeville Fire Chief William T. Collier Jr. presented city officials with a tiered pay plan in which many positions would see as much as a $3K salary increase


Billy Hobbs
The Union-Recorder, Milledgeville, Ga.

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Milledgeville police officers and firefighters are seeking higher wages.

Some of them have already decided, however, to take similar jobs elsewhere that offer better pay.

Milledgeville Fire Rescue Services Chief William T. Collier Jr. has presented city officials with a tiered pay plan.
Milledgeville Fire Rescue Services Chief William T. Collier Jr. has presented city officials with a tiered pay plan.

Six firefighters have left Milledgeville Fire Rescue Services to go to work for fire departments offering them a better pay package.

The city police department hasn't been hit as badly in terms of losing officers to surrounding law enforcement agencies.

Things could worsen, though, although city leaders hope they can come up with an agreeable solution.

Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord has requested a 10% pay hike across the board for all of those who work under him, including entry-level hires, according to City Manager Hank Griffeth.

Milledgeville Fire Rescue Services Chief William T. Collier Jr. has presented city officials with a tiered pay plan. Many ranking positions within the fire department would see their salaries increase annually by as much as $3,000.

Members of Milledgeville City Council, along with Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan, will meet again Tuesday afternoon to attempt to reach a compromise with city police officers and firefighters.

During Tuesday night's city council meeting, city police officers and firefighters filled most of the chairs in city council chambers. Some of them said it was their way of showing city officials their solidarity.

Public service officers were supported by several residents as well as family members. They also garnered the support of Baldwin County Solicitor General Skye Gess.

At the meeting, the mayor asked the city manager whether everyone — all employees — received the bonus money that had been agreed upon by city council.

"Everybody received what you all approved, which is what I recommended, and I gave y'all reasons why I recommended that," Griffeth said. "And what you all approved was for all staff positions with the exception of certified law enforcement officers and certified firefighters. Those people got a 4% increase; a 4% permanent increase. For certified law enforcement officers, and certified firefighters, all of those staff members got a permanent increase of $2,000, and then a bonus of $2,000. And the only reason I call it a bonus is because it's not to be considered a permanent increase. Hopefully, it can be."

Griffeth explained that it was not considered a permanent increase because of the way the city's budget was approved.

"We had to call it a bonus because it was coming from ARPA (federal American Rescue Plan Act) funds," Griffeth said. "That bonus amount was $2,000. The staff members get paid $500 per quarter for four quarters during the budget year."

Griffeth said based the recommendation on his hope that city officials could determine additional revenue sources or the tax digest would allow the city to stay with its same millage rate and generate additional revenue so that those who received $2,000 bonuses could get a permanent increase.

"And we might even know as soon as January gets here," he said.

Griffeth's recommendations were made to members of city council and the mayor on May 30.

"Those folks who got the bonuses have gotten their first $500 bonus checks," Griffeth said. "What I did not get approval from y'all, but what I did because I felt like it was the thing to do, we actually charged the employees' responsibility for FICA to the general fund of the city so that the staff members would realize the full $500," Griffeth said. "So the FICA contribution that they are expected to make did not come out of that piece, and granted that's minimal or trivial money, but that's funds out of the general fund that was not expected."

Griffeth told city leaders that he had shared with them at the last meeting in June an example of the benefits statement that was given to all staff members.

"That benefit statement went out to all certified police officers and all certified firefighters that their $2,000 permanent amount was erroneously left off that statement," Griffeth said. "And that was based on the fact that I read some data that came from HR (Human Resources) incorrectly."

Since then, the benefit statements have been reprinted. He said they would be disseminated in the checks.

"They have already had four payroll checks thus far that included that amount, and they should be able to see that in their payroll check, and that it is, in fact, there," Griffeth said. "They will see on the benefit statement that comes with their check — just for those two departments —on Friday that it is, in fact, there."

City Alderwoman Denese Shinholster asked Griffeth about the possibility of increasing some entry-level pay due to the critical need.

Griffeth said he could arrange to do anything with the budget that city council wanted him to do.

"I will just simply say that until we know where some potential resources of revenue may come from or what the additional revenue generated by the property tax comes from, we have to make those decisions based on our projections, as well as what we actually generated last year," Griffeth said. "We can do that but we need to understand if we do that now that the only place we can guarantee where that money will come from is out of fund balance."

The city manager said some funds already had been taken out of the fund balance.

He said the amount was about $75,000.

Those funds were taken out to help city officials go to the 4% increase for all of the staff besides law enforcement and firefighters, and for the necessary increases in operating expenses that the city anticipates because of the rising costs of things.

"One of the things that [Human Resources director] Mervin [Graham] and I have discussed and we've had a few new hires since then, and we have done this with some of them, and we're starting to do this with law enforcement and firefighters — at least as a stop-gap measure, is each step on our pay scale equates to about a 2 1/2% increase," Griffeth said. "In order for us to go ahead and start being proactive in trying to keep people who are hired making more than the people who have been here, Mervin and I thought it was a good idea, depending on the employee ... that rather than starting somebody at A, where they have traditionally been starting, go ahead and figure the 4% increase that the other staff has gotten and for those other people coming on as new employees and start them at C — at least until we can redo the salary scale."

Griffeth said if city council wanted a dollar amount, he and his staff could provide that with entry-level firefighters and entry-level law enforcement officers with the understanding that it's going to cost the city more money, because everybody else would have to be brought up, too.

"I guess my question to y'all would be — and I know Chief Swicord has shared with y'all and probably some of his staff has shared with y'all — and Chief Collier and some of his staff have shared with y'all and what the people around us are paying," Griffeth said. "Y'all just need to tell me what y'all want that to be and I'll see if we can find the money."

Next Tuesday's work session will address the situation within the city's public safety departments, as well as insurance.

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(c)2022 The Union-Recorder (Milledgeville, Ga.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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