The Mobile City Council appears ready to make changes to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s $249 million general fund budget proposal, but raises for police and firefighters are probably staying put.
The council’s finance committee unanimously approved to recommend to the entire governing body to approve the raises for all sworn officers and any firefighter below the rank of captain, who haven’t received a paramedic pay incentive. In the recommendation, the committee also asked the council to approve equity pay increases that would add 2.5 percent to salaries for every five years of service.
The latter, at least, was in doubt after Chief James Barber posted on the social media platform NextDoor.com that the council was considering taking that money and speading it to other departments.
In addition to committee members Bess Rich, Fred Richardson and Chairman Joel Daves, other councilors told more than 70 uniformed officers in attendance at the meeting Wednesday they intended to support the raises. Council President Gina Gregory also mentioned the buzz the issue caused.
“It proves this city loves its police officers,” Gregory said. “I received so many emails I couldn’t answer all of them … We are here today to say we support you, we intend to give you the full package and it’s about time.”
Councilman John Williams said he has always supported the Mobile Police Department.
“I don’t need to tell these guys in this room anything else about me … I will never waver,” he said. “I will never question who is the first priority in this city. When it comes to paying for the police department — even if it means doing without parks and recreation, or without a council office, wouldn’t that be something — we will pay for it.”
While most in attendance were in favor of the pay raises as Stimpson had proposed them, firefighter, paramedic and attorney Bryan D’Angelo wanted the increases expanded to those who had gone to school to receive the 20-percent paramedic incentive as well.
Richardson and Councilman Levon Manzie expressed interest in finding other money in the budget to give all city employees, who weren’t covered by the police and firefighter raises, a $500 bonus.
About 1,600 employees would be covered under the councilors’ bonus proposal. Manzie asked Executive Director of Finance where he suggested they take the money from. Wesch said he wouldn’t be able to give him an answer until after he spoke to Stimpson and also didn’t want to make a policy recommendation.
Wesch added that the pay increases for police were a way to ensure officer pay would be closer to equal with cities of similar size in the state. He said the administration hoped next year to extend a raise to all employees.
Manzie said he intended to find the money for bonuses one way, or another, but vowed not to use money set aside for the police and firefighter raises. He added he hoped Stimpson and the administration would be able to help.
“I am going to go on a tour of the budget to find the resources needed for bonuses,” he said. “I can go on a self-guided tour, or a guided one. I would prefer to go on a guided tour, but I’m not afraid to go on a self-guided one.”
Councilors Rich and Williams also advocated for the restoration of the $650,000 cut from the Visit Mobile budget. Stimpson’s plan would take money out of the tourism budget, in favor of a tourism improvement district paid for through extra fees added to hotel room bills. The $650,000 in Stimpson’s proposal would then be split among the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail and Stimpson’s youth initiative, known as MoveMobile.
When asked Wesch said he expected insurance costs to increase for employees, since the city’s plan was no longer grandfathered in and would have to follow Affordable Care Act guidelines more closely. He said the finance department didn’t know how much of an increase there would be.
The council is expected to vote on the budget during Tuesday’s regular meeting.