Commission approves fire department salary increase

Tuesday, Aug 5, 2014 5:57 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Aug 6, 2014 12:54 AM
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Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said firefighters in his department can hold their heads a little higher knowing they’ll have more in their wallets, thanks to Augusta Commission approval of his salary adjustment proposal Tuesday.

Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said a pay raise would help the department retain firefighters.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said a pay raise would help the department retain firefighters.

After much debate, the commission voted 6-2 in favor of the plan. James said the increase was necessary to keep the department from losing firefighters to higher-paying agencies.

Commissioners Joe Jackson and Marion Williams voted against the increase, and Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle abstained. Commissioner Corey John­son was not present for Tuesday’s vote.
“I think it’s good for firefighters,” James said after the vote. “… It will give us an entry-level rate to help us retain some employees.”

The increase boosts the entry-level salary from $26,844.48 to $30,000, to go into effect within 30 days.

Since the department operates under a special revenue account, fire protection expenditures don’t come out of the city’s general fund. They rely on revenue generated from insurance premium and fire taxes. James said the account has a balance of about $4 million. The proposal calls for about $500,000 through the next year and less than $200,000 to carry the department through the rest of 2014.

In less than six years, the department has lost 142 firefighters, including two in recent weeks who accepted jobs at higher-paying agencies throughout the state. Of that number, only 39 people left because of retirement.

At Tuesday’s meeting, James said staffing at Augusta fire stations has reached a “critical low,” adding that engine companies have been forced to shut down because of staffing issues.

Despite the issues highlighted by James, Williams, himself a former firefighter, said he couldn’t support the increase right now while the salaries of other employees remain stagnant.

According to James’ proposal, it costs about $23,000 to train new recruits to be certified firefighters and emergency medical technicians. A class of 25 new recruits could cost as much as $575,000.

Commissioner Bill Fen­noy suggested the department draft a binding contract that requires new recruits to commit to the city for a number of years after their training to prevent early departures.

The department is exploring that option, James said, but such contracts have proved difficult to enforce.

After about 25 minutes of debate, Commissioners Donnie Smith and Mary Davis, along with Mayor Deke Copenhaver, voiced their support for the raises.

Commissioner Alvin Mason said while there are other departments that deserve raises, some positions hold a greater priority than others.

“All jobs are not created equal,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that one is less important than the other, but in terms of priority, equal and fair are two different things.”

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countyman
20610
Points
countyman 08/05/14 - 06:21 pm
1
9
Incentive

The $30k entry level salary will help, but let's provide additional incentives($1-$2K) to the employees living in Richmond County.

The city only collects property taxes from the residents of RC and provides infrastructure/jobs for the entire CSRA...

just an opinion
2718
Points
just an opinion 08/05/14 - 07:11 pm
8
0
See- Chief James sounds fine.

So why does he need a popular and attractive $60,000 per year spokeswoman again?

showboat
348
Points
showboat 08/05/14 - 07:27 pm
0
0
TAKE THE $60,000 per year
Unpublished

TAKE THE $60,000 per year from the spokeswoman and give the city employee a raise. BINGO!!!!!!!!

Gage Creed
17863
Points
Gage Creed 08/05/14 - 07:47 pm
1
3
Incentive

Let's only provide first responders to those that live in the county and are active on the property tax roles.

corgimom
34164
Points
corgimom 08/05/14 - 08:30 pm
5
2
Countyman, your incentive

Countyman, your incentive plan is discriminatory and illegal.

corgimom
34164
Points
corgimom 08/05/14 - 08:32 pm
6
1
I hope Joe Jackson or Marion

I hope Joe Jackson or Marion Williams won't need a firefighter anytime soon.

rational thought trumps emotion
2614
Points
rational thought trumps emotion 08/06/14 - 12:59 am
4
1
Good Job

Public Safety needs to be a priority and this was one step in the right direction. In the long run, the shortages and turnover is costing the county more with our fire and police officers than it would if we paid them properly to begin with.

Commissioner Alvin Mason hit the nail on the head when he said "while there are other departments that deserve raises, some positions hold a greater priority than others."

Most departments are paid fair salaries; for example and average employee at the Rec. Department making $13.00 per hour would make the same if they went to Columbia County or Aiken County which is the same for most jobs in the county. They may "like" a raise but salary changes such as was done for the fire department are not necessary to solve major employee retention issues. However, as Sheriff Roundtree recently advised the commission, the Sheriff's Office is now 2 salary adjustments behind the Fire Department and are woefully underpaid compared to similar sized Sheriff's Offices - Sheriff Strength advised the commission that the last salary adjustment was in 2006 and even then it was around 4% and didn't solve the real problem. Sheriff Roundtree has advised of the same problem, so far this has fallen on deaf ears. Our Firefighters, 911 Dispatchers and Deputies are the only employees who work 24/7 and their job functions are top priority for our county because they are necessities not options as are many other positions and expenditures. We must take care of our Public Safety Officers!

bclicious
728
Points
bclicious 08/06/14 - 07:36 am
1
1
I'm thinking lets focus on all first responders:

I bleed blue through and through, but I must state that both fire and police are equally important.

The problem is, every citizen in Richmond County wants the best Law Enforcement and Fire services in the land, but no one wants to pay for it. If I were a citizen in Richmond County, I would give Roundtree anything he wants to lead his offensive campaign against crime.

So, if you find yourself getting your butt beat after dialing 911, and wondering why it is taking that much longer for a deputy to get there, well it's because they are short handed. But, hey who cares about how long it took for the deputy to stop your butt whooping, I mean you did save money; right?

seenitB4
90862
Points
seenitB4 08/06/14 - 07:40 am
4
1
A good move

They deserve a raise...rather see this than endless studies.

Riverman1
86989
Points
Riverman1 08/06/14 - 08:17 am
3
0
Comparison

I'm curious what the starting salary for a police officer is in comparison to an entry level fire fighter?

nocnoc
45030
Points
nocnoc 08/06/14 - 08:40 am
2
1
Paying a Hero for a pound of burnt flesh.

The average Fire Fighter will blister about a pound of flesh over his/her career. They'll retire and died of a Heart Attack in 6 months to a year.

LEO and Fireman Cert's and training don't come cheap at about $14,000 to train and properly & equip a rookie replacement fire fighter.

So the cost of replacing the staff with less than 5 yrs. seasoning with even more lightly season staff, out weights the merger pay raises they get.

Besides who would you want fighting your house fire a 10 year veteran fire fighter or a 1 year rookie? A decent salaries keep season firefighters around. Remember their FF Cert is good GA wide.

However, the average Augusta salary is NOT that far out of line now, compared with other cites near the same size as Augusta

Augusta - $39,567
http://www1.salary.com/GA/Augusta/Fire-Fighter-salary.html

Macon - $40,310
http://www1.salary.com/GA/Macon/Fire-Fighter-salary.html

Valdosta - $35,537
http://www1.salary.com/GA/Valdosta/Fire-Fighter-salary.html

Savannah - $38,330
http://www1.salary.com/GA/Savannah/Fire-Fighter-salary.html

Atlanta - $43,326
http://www1.salary.com/GA/Atlanta/Fire-Fighter-salary.html

Only minor adjusts are needed to be competitive, and any good fire fighter and YES even the ones that couldn't pass the firemen training called LEO's, all deserves that much.☺

Yes, my son is a Fire Fighter II /EMS/CS/Haz-Mat etc...FF in Dekalb.

comments save for quick re-post in case of Accidental IRS Deletion☺.

nocnoc
45030
Points
nocnoc 08/06/14 - 08:44 am
2
0
BTW: if you want to see the level of training GA demands

Here is the TV video that were shot at the Ga Fire Academy outside Macon some years ago.

There are 6 parts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkALvzNdMoY

Yes, that is my son.

curly123053
4962
Points
curly123053 08/06/14 - 08:47 am
3
1
Good !

As someone who worked EMS for 22 years I think this is a well deserved increase for the RCFD. The men and women of all the emergency services are not paid what they are worth for the jobs they do. I know for a fact the rotating door is still going strong in Aiken County as far as the Sheriff Dept and County EMS is concerned.

TrulyWorried
15386
Points
TrulyWorried 08/06/14 - 09:25 am
1
1
to noc noc

you really miss 'home', don't you?

itsanotherday1
45445
Points
itsanotherday1 08/06/14 - 10:17 am
3
1
It is just common sense.

It is just common sense. Skill jobs have to stay competitive in salary to retain employees. To say the firefighter can't get a raise just because the meter reader or grass cutter needs one is nonsense. The latter are a dime a dozen while the former aren't easy to come by.

jimmymac
42941
Points
jimmymac 08/06/14 - 11:00 am
0
0
RAISE
Unpublished

Public safety salaries should always be at the top of the pay scale in any government. These fine police and fire people rick their lives trying to protect us on a daily basis. Quit quibbling on whether some other area pays more or less. If a spokesperson gets $60,000 a year out of the gate so should Leo's and firemen.

nocnoc
45030
Points
nocnoc 08/06/14 - 12:03 pm
1
0
TrulyWorried

No argument about missing RURAL Richmond Co.

Our was strictly a safety move.

My hopes and with the few political connections I have, are to improve ARC.

That will take a Deconsolidation effort to save the county, from the Money Pit and pork barrel called DOWNTOWN.

Too much $$$$$$ is invest in the west side and believe it or not,
the SOUTH SIDE was designed, as far back as the 80's to be other side of the tracks type dumping ground for the city.

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