DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Some Dallas City Council members say they will keep trying to propose ways to boost pay for first responders.
Three amendments to the proposed budget by Councilman Scott Griggs would have boosted the starting salaries for police officers and firefighters to $54,263 a year and would have provided existing officers and firefighters either a three or five percent across the board raise.
But none of them attracted eight votes needed.
While the votes are not binding, they do give the public a chance to see where the council stands.
After Wednesday’s budget briefing, Councilman Griggs said he would make additional proposals and that he is encouraged. “I heard more support than I have in the past. I think the council is beginning to see whether we’re in an economic boom or economic bust, we must have public safety. And to invest the money we need in public safety, we need to address the recruiting issue and retention issue.”
During the meeting, Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief David Coatney said retaining firefighters is a bigger problem than attracting new recruits. “We see our recruiting efforts pay off. What happens is once people get in, get trained, and they start to see the surrounding cities around us are paying around $10,000 to $20,000 more a year for the same profession, they’re moving away from us after we’ve trained them.”
Coatney says other cities can pay firefighters more because they require certification for being hired.
Because many other cities don’t offer certification, they don’t have to pay for firefighter training.
But the city has found that after paying for training, firefighters and police officers have eventually left for higher pay at other departments, again leaving the city to attract new recruits and pay for their training.
The President of the Dallas Police Association, Mike Mata says while Dallas Fire-Rescue still attracts new firefighters, it’s a different story for DPD.
Like other departments across the country, Dallas is having difficulty attracting officers, not to mention retaining them.
Mata says, “We do have to raise starting pay to an acceptable level that is comparable. We don’t have to be number one, but we sure shouldn’t be last. And then we got to look at our retention level.”
He says existing officers and firefighters should receive an across the board pay hike.
That would be in addition to the pay increases first responders are due to receive during the new budget year starting October 1st, under their final year of their current three year contract.
But Councilman Lee Kleinman says he doesn’t support giving first responders any additional pay increases from what they will receive next year. “We have an agreement, a contract with these labor groups. Why they don’t want to honor their contract is beyond me.”
Kleinman says any further pay increases would hurt taxpayers. “It imposes major tax increases on our citizens.”
He favors lowering the property tax rate to 73.91 cents per $100 in valuation, which is the effective tax rate, which is the rate that would be needed to raise the same amount of taxes levied last year plus eight percent.
Last week, the majority of council members voted to make the property tax rate no higher than 77.79 cents per $100 in valuation.
That’s lower than the current tax rate of 78.04 cents, and would give the city an extra $16.4 million to potentially spend on first responders pay.
Council member Sandy Greyson said earlier Wednesday afternoon that she hopes to lower the property tax rate below the new ceiling, while boosting salaries for police officers and firefighters. “I did support giving them more in the hopes that will help us in recruitment and retention.”
During their morning session, council members voted to move $500,000 budgeted for expanding bike lanes.
Half would go towards public safety compensation, and the other half to property tax reduction.
The city council will hold public hearings on the budget at city hall during the next two Wednesdays.
Also Wednesday, the council voted Casey Thomas as their new Mayor Pro Tem.
He succeeds Dwaine Caraway who resigned his seat earlier this month after he pleaded guilty in the ongoing federal public corruption case involving the now defunct Dallas County Schools bus agency.
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