Beach plan would boost pay of public safety staff

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Normally I do not cut and paste the entire article from where I find it. Thus giving the article, press source, and writer the proper credit. I understand that this is good practice. However in this case I felt the need to incorporate the entire article so that I could highlight important points. So read on and let me know if any part of this sounds familiar. I am talking about the issues, as well as the proposed solutions by firefighters.

Beach plan would boost pay of public safety staff

By DUANE BOURNE, The Virginian-Pilot
© March 26, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH – The city’s senior public safety employees could be getting raises soon.

On Tuesday, City Manager Jim Spore will present a budget that includes $12.9 million over three years to address recruiting-and-retention concerns by police, firefighters, dispatchers and emergency medical service workers.

Last month, the City Council approved a three-year plan to streamline the pay system for public safety employees. For years, it continually raised starting salaries for entry-level employees without offering across-the-board raises to other employees.

That led to a frustrating situation in which some newer employees earned more than some people who supervised them. For example, 40 master police officers make more than higher-ranking lieutenants.

City officials and union leaders said the proposal is the best solution offered to uniformed employees since the problem emerged several years ago.

As a result, the city’s public safety workers have endorsed all five City Council incumbents who are up for re-election in May.

“People have been complaining about this since the 1980s,” said Councilman Jim Wood, who is a former Virginia Beach police officer. “The fact that the council addressed it is a success story.”

Under the plan, the city would spend $4.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year, and another $4.3 million the next year. That would bring supervisors to the point where they are paid more than subordinate employees.

The union has continually asked for a fix, and with this proposal, “finally someone is receptive to listening,” said Kenneth Pravetz, president of the Virginia Beach Professional Firefighters union. “I am not saying it will absolutely fix things.”

The raises will come in addition to merit increases that have already been proposed in the upcoming budget. Catheryn Whitesell, the city’s budget director, will present the annual budget, including the public safety compensation proposal on Tuesday.

Wood said the plan will help the city recruit police, fire and emergency medical services personnel, and help keep communications employees and police officers with investigative and tactical experience.

Over the past five years, there has been an exodus of emergency dispatchers and police to federal and private-sector jobs, largely because of pay disparities. According to the city, both communications and police have annual turnover rates higher than the citywide average of 4.2 percent over the p ast five years.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the City Council will consider adopting a step plan similar to the military pay system to attract new employees with competitive wages.

That plan, according to Regina Hilliard, the city’s compensation manager, would give employees a better idea of what they will earn year by year. It is contingent on what the city’s finances look like then.

“We have to face reality that we are short on fire and police staffing,” Wood said. “We have an aging public safety workforce. We have to make sure that the job is more attractive to potential employees.”

Reach Duane Bourne at (757) 222-5150 or at

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