City council members narrowly approve next year's budget - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

City council members narrowly approve next year's budget

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- After a fiery debate over police officer pay, city leaders narrowly voted Tuesday night in favor of a budget that excludes raises for most officers.

In the end, Mayor Ron Littlefield's original proposal passed, but just barely.

 "It's not unreasonable to expect in the next 20 years to make another dollar on your paycheck," says Chattanooga Police Sergeant Craig Joel.

It's an expectation that will have to wait.

City leaders voted five to four to approve a $209 million budget. But not everyone was in agreement on pay raises.

"I didn't see any reason to tell a firefighter his cost of living hadn't gone up, and tell a secretary that hers had," says Councilman Peter Murphy.

"The constituents I work for are not getting those types of a bump up, and I don't think as tax payers that they should fund that rich of a program," says Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd.

The budget includes $1.3 million for the police department's career development program.

The same amount will go to funding a 3-percent pay raise for all civilian employees, and all employees who have been with the city five or more years will receive a longevity bonus of $75 per year.

"I think it's about the only thing that we could do this year with a total of 3.1 million, and the police are going to get a third of that, just the police department," says Councilman Jack Benson.

Andrae McGary and Peter Murphy wanted to give a smaller raise across the board, to include all sworn officers.

The council voted to stick with Mayor Littlefield's original plan.

"This is a job; it's a calling, but it's also a job," says Sergeant Joel. "When pay gets stagnant after the second, third, fourth and fifth years, it's hard to retain people. It's hard to attract people."

Sergeant Craig Joel says brand new officers are making more than their supervisors, and it's time city leaders come up with a plan for future funding that includes those wearing a badge.

"It won't fix itself, and we're just as politely as possible begging them to just fix the problem," he says.

Civilians make up two-thirds of the city's workforce.

Council members Carol Berz, Sally Robinson, Jack Benson, Russell Gilbert and Manny Rico voted in favor of the budget. Andrae McGary, Peter Murphy, Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott voted against it.

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