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Fargo police, firefighters to get raises after local, regional salary comparisons

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Fargo police officers and firefighters packed the Fargo City Hall Monday night, May 20, to listen to a debate over increases for the employees of the two departments. Barry Amundson / The Forum

FARGO — Fargo police officer and president of the city's police organization Mike Clower "absolutely" thinks action taken Monday night, May 20, to raise salaries for most police officers and firefighters in the city will help attract and retain employees.

Clower, interviewed after a 4-1 favorable Fargo City Commission meeting vote, said he believes officers will be "quite pleased" with the decision to increase step pay for workers in the two departments with increases starting in the second year and continuing until they reach a maximum salary after about eight years.

The increases affect about 172 police officers and 120 firefighters or about 30 percent of the city workforce. The raises will be retroactive to the beginning of the year.

In all, the increases this year will cost the city about $473,812 as the raises mostly boost pay instead of 2% to 3% per year to 5 to 6%.

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The city commission chambers were packed with police officers and firefighters to hear the discussion about the study that was done by the Human Resources Director Jill Minette and her staff of pay scales in 28 cities in 11 regional states for both departments. The study included West Fargo and Moorhead, which were paying more on many of the salary steps.

"And they have less calls," said Police Chief David Todd.

While the study found starting pay matched up with local and regional starting salaries, it was after the first year where the city was lagging behind.

Todd said he had lost 10 officers in the first quarter of this year and that in past years, there have been about eight officers per year leaving for other departments or the private sector.

"This isn't sustainable," he said as he's also concerned about people choosing other careers.

Fire Chief Steve Dirksen said they used to have 200 to 300 applicants for one to five job openings 20 years ago. In February, he said there were only 25 who signed up to take the firefighter test application.

"We're seeing an exodus of strong employees going to other departments," Dirksen said.

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All of the city commissioners said they supported the increases, but Commissioner Tony Gehrig voted against the raises because he didn't think it should be done in the middle of a budget year and wanted to know what the impact would be in future budget years. He asked where the city would get the funds.

City Administrator Bruce Grubb said because of some of the vacancies in the departments, there would be extra funding available and that the city usually ends the year with some money unspent.

Mayor Tim Mahoney said the City Commission had asked for the local and regional study last August and that the increases were a "response to the marketplace."

Commissioner John Strand said he "wholeheartedly" support the increases as "we are only as good as our people."

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said the problem for the city was "in the middle" of the salary schedule, although starting pay was fairly strong. "We're talking about public safety and that's one of our main responsibilities," he said.

With the increases, the starting police officer salary will stand at $54,142, but in the second year will increase from $55,786 to $57,325. Pay will keep increasing each year to a maximum of $79,955 at eight years instead of hitting the maximum of $73,466 at 12 years.

The 24 police sergeants, seven lieutenants and three deputy chiefs will also get pay increases with top pay reaching $96,803 for the sergeants after eight years to $134,680 for the deputy chiefs at seven years.

The starting firefighters will continue to earn $50,145 in their first year, with an increase in the second year going from the current pay of $51,602 to $53,115. The pay will increase for the 75 firefighters each year to a maximum of $75,741 at nine years. Fire equipment drivers are paid extra because of their responsibility for caring for fire equipment and the ability to drive through heavy traffic, maneuvering 50-foot long vehicles, said Dirksen.

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The fire department's 29 captains, seven battalion chiefs and three assistant fire chiefs will also receive step increases with top pay hitting $89,573 for captains at eight years, $112,927 for battalion chiefs at eight years and $126,152 for assistant chiefs at seven years.

The pay schedules at each stage were compared with how other local and regional departments pay at the different levels, and Minette said the new increases will leave Fargo above many other local and regional cities.

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