Police, fire pay dispute could lead to lawsuit
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Chattanooga city leaders have agreed on next year's budget. In a vote of five to four, council members narrowly passed the $209 million spending plan for 2012-2013.
Taxes are not going up, but city employees are getting a raise and the council has approved funding for a police career program.
However, the council did not approve a raise for police and fire.
Captain Jeff Eldridge, President of the Chattanooga Fire Fighters Association Local 820 says, "I think it is sad the sworn personnel didn't get a pay raise, not only fire but police."
Councilman Manny Rico says, "There is just not enough money to give everyone a raise. I mean, we have to stick to a budget."
City employees will see a 3-percent increase and that bothers Councilman Andrae McGary who voted against the budget.
"My concern is that we do what is in the best interest of all city employees," he says. "They all deserve a fair shake."
Chattanooga Police will receive funding for a career ladder program aimed at setting pay scales and promotion on the right track, but the Fraternal Order of Police says that's not enough.
About 150 officers haven't received a raise in years and lower ranking officers are making more than their superiors.
They are now threatening to sue the city.
Sergeant Craig Joel says, "When pay gets stagnant after the third, fourth, and fifth year, it is hard to attract people, it is hard to retain people, and that's a conversation we are trying to start."
So how can the city fix the problem?
The fire department suggests the city develop a fund for sworn employees separately and rework the pay scale.
"If it can be done," says Eldridge. "They should fund a pay plan where if you are promoted, you know exactly where you are going to go."
But nothing is that simple says Rico.
"Everyone at one time will think it isn't fair because they didn't get theirs and I don't know how you fix it. I don't know if you can fix it."
The Fraternal Order of Police have not filed a lawsuit, but have hired lawyers to talk with city leaders.