Ga. city council OKs $1.3M in staff raises to aid recruitment, retention efforts

Base salaries for certified firefighters and police officers will now be $50,895, per Smyrna city officials


By Jake Busch
Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.

SMYRNA, Ga. — The City Council unanimously approved more than $1 million in raises for city employees at its meeting this week.

The raises, which total $1.3 million and will take effect Jan. 1 of next year, encompass a cost of living adjustment, merit increases and an extra $2,000 raise for certified public safety positions, according to City Administrator Joe Bennett.

Bennett told the MDJ Smyrna is short 20 police officers and four firefighters. Those numbers represent vacancy rates of 23% and 4%, respectively, according to Carol Sicard, Smyrna's human resources director.

"The city is experiencing difficulty hiring and retaining employees in the certified public safety positions with constant changes occurring recently in other jurisdictions," Bennett said.

Smyrna Police Chief Keith Zgonc said his department is "always in a battle with some of the other cities and counties" for personnel.

The new starting pay for uncertified police officers and firefighters will be $47,179, according to city staff. Base salaries for certified officers and firefighters will be $50,895. Sicard noted all uncertified officers and firefighters must complete their certification within their first year of employment with the city.

"It means a lot for the police department," Zgonc said of the raises. "We're short handed over there and this will go a long way towards keeping some folks on board."

The city based its changes on a pay study conducted in 2021 by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government. That study recommended the city adjust its pay bands based on either the Employment Cost Index or the Consumer Price Index, with city staff electing to base the newest round of raises on the former.

For the remainder of the current budget year, which runs through June 2023, the city will fund the raises with a combination of contingency funding in the city's general fund and a one-time use of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Going forward, Bennett said Smyrna's Budget Committee will look to use the city's normal operational revenues to maintain the raises.

The City Council previously approved staff raises totaling $1.3 million in April. Prior to that, the council approved raises for a majority of Smyrna police officers in November 2021.

The cost of living adjustment for this newest round of raises will be 4.6%, which Sicard said all full- and part-time staff will receive. Merit raises, meanwhile, will be based on performance ratings, range from 1.5% to 3.5%, and be available for all eligible staff.

"This is an opportunity to take care of the people that take care of us," said Mayor Derek Norton during Monday's council meeting.

Norton said he and the council "inherited a mess as far as staff goes and in how they were taken care of in the past."

Councilman Charles "Corkey" Welch, who has represented Smyrna Ward 4 since 2011, disagreed with Norton.

"You didn't inherit a mess," Welch said. "We did everything we could to give raises and give incentives to keep people on."

Norton said he did not mean there was no efforts to retain staff on the part of previous councils.

"I mean that there was a mess as far as having done the pay study before, but then not maintaining," Norton said.

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(c)2022 Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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