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Gainesville plans pay boost for public safety personnel
City struggles to maintain staffing on its forces due to outside competition

Gainesville officials are poised to address personnel attrition in the city’s fire and police departments with salary increases as the annual budget process begins to take shape.

Councilman Zack Thompson said that is priority No. 1 for the 2019 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1.

“We’re really going to have to keep up with the surrounding area” when it comes to pay, he said.

The loss of public safety personnel to other departments in the metro Atlanta region has strained staffing and can be costly to the city after it has invested in training expenses, officials said.

Staying on top of the issues is a seemingly never-ending challenge for city officials.

In 2014, The Times reported how the pay issue had hurt morale among Gainesville firefighters.

In 2015, city officials had a pay study conducted and found that among all its employees, pay earned was 7.7 percent less, on average, for entry level positions compared with municipalities elsewhere in the state.

That same year, officials voted to provide salary increases to most workers.

And up until last January, the city had been giving longevity bonuses to some police officers, which were then converted to permanent salary increases.

“It’s just competitive,” Councilman Sam Couvillon said. “We think we have issues.”

Last fall, attrition struck Hall County Fire Services so hard county officials agreed to spend $1 million in overtime pay to shore up staffing concerns.

MAYOR.Danny Dunagan
Dunagan
Mayor Danny Dunagan said tackling the pay issue this year is essential.

“We’re in the same shape” as it relates to “retaining our officers,” he said.

But maintaining competitive pay can be like trying to hit a moving target.

“It changes every year,” Thompson said.

And the competition comes from many corners. For example, pay increases over the last year for Georgia State Patrol officers presents one more potential threat to the city’s ability to retain qualified personnel, Thompson said.

The city is also managing other expenses within public safety departments, such as replacing a ladder truck and coordinating the relocation of a fire station using special purpose local option sales tax revenue.

City Manager Bryan Lackey said he will make a budget presentation to the City Council on May 10 with a first public hearing and vote set for May 31.

At the end of the budget process, it’s also likely city officials will be considering pay raises for other employees outside of public safety.

This is a result, Couvillon said, of an overall increase in demand for city services as commercial and residential growth continues at record paces.

“I think everybody will be brought in on that as well,” he added. “It’s not just public safety. It’s good employees in all departments.”

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