Police, fire raises sought

Officers from the Biloxi Police and Fire departments filled Tuesday’s budget meeting to ask the City Council for a more substantial pay raise than the 5 percent proposed.

Police Officer Louis Moran, surrounded by more than 50 police officers dressed in blue and firefighters in red, spoke on behalf of both departments. He said they understood when the city lost its tax base after Hurricane Katrina and their pay was frozen. They have since received a 5 percent increase spread over the last two years but the 5 percent being considered this year “is just simply not enough. We would like to have 15 percent up front,” for the officers and emergency services support staff in both departments, and a reevaluation of the longevity reward system.

He suggested the city’s share of the 15 percent increase projected in casino revenue this year would cover the pay raises.

Moran said it is a misconception that Biloxi police are the highest paid in the state, and told the council 10 other departments pay their officers more. Meanwhile, the cost of living is higher on the Coast than anywhere else in the state.

Councilman George Lawrence pointed out that the cost of living is the same for all city employees, and it would be difficult for the council to raise the pay only for the emergency personnel and not the entire city staff.

Earlier this year the council raised the starting salary for Biloxi police and firefighters to $30,000 to help fill vacancies in the Police Department. City records show a patrol officer first class and firefighter III earn $38,045 a year. Benefits include health insurance, vision and dental plans for the officer and family, which cost $11,000 per officer per year, tuition assistance and longevity pay of $72 per year. They get 6.5 hours of sick leave per month, 12 paid holidays and 18 to 27 days of vacation per year depending on longevity. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn an additional $100 per month.

Moran said the health insurance and benefits are held over their heads when asking for a cost of living raise. The department can’t strike because of the public safety issue, he said after the meeting, so they have to depend on the city to increase their pay.

Council President Ed Gemmill said the council committee on pay raises is still meeting and will consider the request.

“I think we got their attention,” said Moran. “We can ask for 15 percent but we’re probably not going to get it.”

He said a 10 percent raise would be a good first step. “I emphasize first step.”