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Statesboro police, firefighters get $3,000 raise
City repurposes federal ARPA money to cover first 2 years
Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny, right, explains the raise for firefighters and police and its two-year funding source as Councilman John Riggs, center, who made the motion, and Councilwoman Shari Barr, left, who seconded it, listen.
Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny, right, explains the raise for firefighters and police and its two-year funding source as Councilman John Riggs, center, who made the motion, and Councilwoman Shari Barr, left, who seconded it, listen. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro Police Department officers and Statesboro Fire Department firefighters will begin receiving a $3,000 raise in their annual pay in January, after City Council on Tuesday approved the use of $818,844 in federal ARPA money to cover the cost the first two years.

Demetrius Bynes, Statesboro’s city human resources director, did an informal compensation study, looking at police and fire salaries in some similar-size cities, such as Hinesville and Dublin, as well as larger Savannah.

“Everybody likes to use Savannah as the example, but Savannah’s a different animal,” Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny told the mayor and council. “But when we looked at some of our peer cities that are close in our size, we found that we were behind.”

Statesboro’s current starting salary for a regular police officer is $40,622. According to the information Bynes received, and provided upon request to the Statesboro Herald, Dublin’s starting salary for a certified police officer is $40,296; Hinesville’s is $42,244; Pooler’s is $44,000; and Garden City’s is $39,998 for an “officer recruit,” but $44,658 for an actual officer.

The raise now approved will make Statesboro’s starting salary for a police officer $43,662. Statesboro’s current firefighter starting pay – actually an hourly rate but amounting to $39,037 a year with the standard shifts and allowed overtime – will rise to $42,037.

The full picture is more complex. More details of the police pay comparison, as well as some information from the firefighter pay comparison, are included later in this story.

In order to be competitive “in a tough labor market for police and fire,” Statesboro should not fall behind its peer cities, Penny said.

“But I’m going to tell you we’re in a tough labor market for all of our employees,” he added.

He recommended that the mayor and council approve the $3,000 addition as part of a new pay plan for the Police Department, which has had its own, separate pay scale for its certified employees since 2017.

But the Fire Department is included in the overall pay plan for all other city departments that was enacted in mid-2019 based on a compensation study by human resources consulting firm Condrey & Associates. So Penny recommended that the same $3,000 raise be adopted as a “pay adjustment” for certified firefighters without amending the SFD’s part in the pay plan.

“But at the same time … we are also recommending that by the end of 2023 we need to begin a process of doing a new pay plan, and I’m going to recommend to you that we  do  a new, comprehensive pay and classification study for all of our  employees,” Penny told  the elected officials.


ARPA funding

Meanwhile, he has a federal source for the $818,844 needed to cover the estimated costs of the raises, including the associated retirement plan and payroll tax expenses, for the first two years. “Enhanced compensation for public safety” is a specifically allowed category of American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, spending, Penny noted.

In 2021 Statesboro was allotted $12.3 million in ARPA money.

When the first half, $6.15 million, was received, the city government’s initial plan was to spend $2.5 million for housing rehabilitation; $3 million for new sewer lines; and $500,000 for “food insecurities,” namely the city’s match of another $500,000 provided by the county to build a permanent facility for Food Bank Inc. The remaining $153,110 was slotted to compensate for revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and for local incentive programs.

“We had some (ARPA funds) that were left over, and we’re also recommending that we make an adjustment, a reduction of about $500,000 from the wastewater extension program in order to ensure that we  can pay for this increase for the next two years,” Penny said.

The proposed extensions of the city sewer system to areas currently served only by septic tank systems can still be done, but with more of the money to come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, said Penny and Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles.


Beyond 2 years

The $818,844 in reallocated ARPA cash is not expected to cover the increase in public safety salaries beyond the first two years. After that, the expected source would be local taxes, particularly property tax.

“Beyond the next two years we would anticipate that we would have growth in our market and in our property values that we would be able to, hopefully, absorb the increased cost,” Penny said.

On a motion by Councilman John Riggs seconded by Councilwoman Shari Barr, the council approved the raises and ARPA allocation 4-0. Councilman Phil Boyum was absent because of illness.

Of course, city officials are hoping that the boost in pay will help retain officers and firefighters and attract new hires to fill shortages in the authorized forces. In the past few years, the council has approved the addition of more new positions than the departmental chiefs have been able to keep filled.

“The issue that the city of Statesboro is facing nearly every city across the country is facing,” said Mayor Jonathan McCollar.  “We have law enforcement officers that have opportunities to go into other spaces and make more money at the state level and larger cities. So that’s what we’re having to compete in.”

He and Penny predicted that Statesboro will also face upward pressure on wages from the influx of new industries to the area.

As of this week, the Statesboro Police Department, authorized for 79 total employees, was short 12 officers on regular duty, with seven still in training and others out for reasons such as injury and military leave, according to Police Chief Mike Broadhead. The Statesboro Fire Department, authorized for 59 employees including 57 certified personnel, had eight vacancies, said Fire Chief Tim Grams.


Complex picture

Bynes’ research shows more than starting salaries, and indicates that cities classify police and firefighter jobs in ways that are not neatly parallel.

Dublin has a “non-certified” police officer pay level, starting at $38,015. And although Statesboro’s pre-raise starting salary for regular officers was just slightly higher than Dublin’s, with both under $41,000, Statesboro’s top pre-raise pay for a regular officer – not considering higher ranks – was $67,038, significantly higher than Dublin’s top $62,458.

That is also higher than Savannah’s reported $59,450 maximum for a basic officer, but Savannah’s starting salary of $50,013 for a “police officer” and its “police officer trainee” wage of $43,085 are both well above Statesboro’s pre-raise officer starting salary.

The Statesboro Fire Department’s starting wage for firefighters, pre-raise, is $13.22, but its current basic firefighter pay tops out at $19.84, with a 56-hour week standard. There are other rates for various job descriptions from fire apparatus operator to fire chief.

Hinesville’s wage for a basic firefighter is $14.59 an hour, but a “senior firefighter” there gets $15.32.  Dublin’s minimum starting salary for a firefighter is $38,015.

In Savannah, $39,502 is the salary of a “firefighter trainee” with a 40-hour week, but $43,528 is the starting salary for a regular firefighter on a 56-hour week.


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