The Atlanta City Council could consider a plan to bump the pay of public safety workers without a massive hit to the budget.
Mayor Kasim Reed has said it would not be good business to give police officers and firefighters raises while they are suing the City of Atlanta over pension reform. The police and fire unions contend that the mayor's position violates their rights.
The Finance/Executive Committee is trying to find a way to deal with "compression," which is when newer hires to the departments make more money than veterans with the same or more experience. A proposal under consideration involves small merit-based increases in pay, awarded on the hiring anniversaries of the sworn personnel.
"These are not raises," said Councilwoman Mary Norwood. "They are small increases that say to the officer, 'If you do a good job and you stay with the city and you're part of our team, you get this incremental increase."
The increases are not infinite. They end when an officer reaches the top of the pay scale for their particular rank. If, for instance, a sergeant later achieves a higher rank of lieutenant, the incremental increases would begin again within that particular pay scale.
"They are spread out all along the year. It's not one time we give all the firefighters or all the police officers 'a raise.' On their anniversary, they get that increment," said Norwood.
Committee members heard the concerns of public safety personnel who said that colleagues are being wooed away to jurisdictions where they can get paid more money for their level of experience. The stair-step increases in pay, with their predictability, could counter that by boosting morale among the ranks.
Stephen Borders, with Atlanta Professional Firefighters, challenged the council members to buck Mayor Reed's stance. If they don't, he said, they are condoning illegal actions.
"You have the ability to right this wrong," said Borders. "You can fix this."
The proposed legislation could be ready to go at the next Finance/Executive meeting in August.