Price of police and fire pay raises approved by council put at $5 million

By Updated: May 22, 2019 5:54 PM CT | Published: May 22, 2019 5:39 PM CT

City chief financial officer Shirley Ford says pay raises for police and firefighters approved Tuesday by the Memphis City Council put Mayor Jim Strickland’s $708 million operating budget proposal more than $5 million out of balance – or in the red.

The estimate, the day after the council approved a 5% raise for police and a 3.8% raise for firefighters, will get more specific as council members grapple with how to pay for the raises. They are more than the 3% raise Strickland recommended for public safety in his budget proposal.

“I respect the council’s budgetary authority,” Strickland said the morning after the decision. “The tough work happens for the council now because they have to pay for those by either raising taxes or cutting services to the public or benefits to other city employees. We’ll see how that evolves.”

It will start to evolve next week as the council budget committee holds its “wrap-up” session – the time when the committee makes amendments to the city budget it will recommend to the full council for a June 4 vote.

Bill Dries: Council sides with police and fire unions in pay raise impasses

Strickland’s ball park estimate was that the raises add $4 million to $5 million. The numbers can vary, especially when the administration’s version is compared to the estimates of the unions representing city workers. Some estimates cited during Tuesday’s council session were with and without “compression” – different pay scales within the same department for skill sets and experience.

City council budget committee chairman Martavius Jones estimated before Tuesday’s votes that if the council approved the union proposals for the seven contract talks that went to the impasse procedure it would add approximately $6 million to Strickland’s budget proposal.

Of the seven impasse resolutions that went to the full council, the council stuck with the city’s final offer in five cases and went with the union final offer in the cases of police and firefighters.

<strong>Jim Strickland</strong> (Daily Memphian file)

Jim Strickland (Daily Memphian file)

Strickland proposed a 3% pay raise for police and police dispatchers as well as firefighters. He proposed a 1% raise for all other city employees.

Seven unions, including the police and fire unions, declared an impasse in their contract talks with the administration. The declaration triggered the appointment of council impasse committees, each consisting of three council members, to make a recommendation to the full council that was either the city’s final offer or the union’s final offer.

The council voted yes or no on the recommendations.

Through the seven roll call votes, council chairman Kemp Conrad voted for the city’s final offer all seven times by The Daily Memphian’s vote count on each item. Council members Joe Brown, Cheyenne Johnson and Jamita Swearengen voted for the union’s offer all seven times by the same count.

The closest vote of the seven was a 6-6 tie vote on a recommendation for the 4% pay raise sought by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees over the 1% pay raise the city administration proposed. Because of the tie, the recommendation to go with the union’s proposal failed and the administration offer prevailed.

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The council has voted to change the administration’s proposed budget on pay raises before during Strickland’s tenure but not to the amount estimated with Tuesday’s decisions.

In the 2017 budget season, the council approved 1% pay raises for all city employees other than police and fire and funded it with a cut in the police overtime line item. Strickland proposed police and fire pay raises in the budget and later accepted the 1% for other employees.

Six of the unions representing city employees went to impasse that budget season. And every council impasse committee recommended the city’s final offer. The pay raises proposed and funded by the council for non-public safety employees prompted the six unions to withdraw the impasse declarations before the full council voted on the matters.

In the 2016 budget season, the council approved a 1.5% pay raise for all city employees other than police and fire. Strickland had proposed only police and fire pay raises in his budget. The council was prepared to fund the 1.5% raise with cuts in the budget for the mayor’s office – the executive division.

Strickland agreed to find the money for the raise elsewhere if the council would restore the cuts to his office. The council agreed.

In 2015, six council impasse committees sided with the unions in their recommendations over the administration of Mayor A C Wharton. The council sided with the impasse recommendation for a 3% raise for police but the process stalled on a similar raise for firefighters.

The full council went around the impasse procedure and ultimately approved 2% raises for police and fire and a 1% raise for all other city employees, costing approximately $3 million. Wharton agreed to come up with the money through making shifts in his budget proposal without the council acting to do so.

Strickland was on the council at the time.

“We will work with them if they ask for that,” he said when asked if he would suggest where the council could find the money for the pay raises approved Tuesday through the impasse process. “But it’s really their responsibility to identify what they want to cut,” he said. “We’ve made recommendations. That’s our budget proposal.”


Memphis City Council Impasse Procedure Jim Strickland Budget
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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