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Berea increases pay for police, fire and streets

09.23.06 03:58 PM – Andy McDonald
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Aaron Hall (badge #421) and Jarad Northern (badge #422) were sworn in Tuesday night at Berea City Hall. The new officers will begin at the police academy on October 2.
The city of Berea implemented pay increases for firefighters, police officers and street department workers in an effort to stave off attrition and retain experienced employees.

The move was officially announced Tuesday night during a meeting of the Berea City Council, when City Administrator Randy Stone revealed that pay increases for the three departments when into effect after they were approved during an executive session earlier this month.

“The council met on Tuesday of last week and discussed the salary schedules for police and fire in executive session,” Stone said. “Those have been given approval in our amended budget. Raises for police, fire and also streets [workers] went into effect on the 17th of this month. We have enough money in the budget to cover us through January without making any budget amendment at this time. You all [the council] said in the meeting that you would address it and you have done that.”

Earlier this year, firefighters raised the issue of compensation with Stone and Mayor Steve Connelly when they met for discussions about whether the city should enroll in the hazardous duty benefits program administered by the state.

City officials have cited a Kentucky League of Cities study that suggests costs of the hazardous duty program could send personnel costs skyrocketing by as much as 50 percent in future years. Moreover, once the city is enrolled in the program, it can’t withdraw, and if Berea was unexpectedly caught in an economic downturn, the argument goes, the city council would then have to choose between cutting services or firing police officers and firefighters to keep pace with increasing personnel costs.

While the council didn’t opt to enroll the city in the hazardous duty benefits program, discussions about city personnel and further research revealed some troubling facts, according to Mayor Connelly: While the city of Berea is competitive with other local agencies after a period of five years, the city’s initial starting salaries fell short.

For example, under the old pay scale, new Berea police officers were paid approximately $23,430 a year. In comparison, Richmond police officers earn approximately $27,268 to start, KSP troopers earn $29,000, EKU police earn $29,000, and Madison County Sheriff’s deputies earn $30,680.

As a result, it was widely speculated that Berea police officers were exploring the possibility of leaving the city in favor of other agencies, including the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, KSP, and the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

But under the new pay scale, the starting salary for a Berea police officer without experience will be approximately $27,000, and will increase commensurate with training and job duties. After completion of basic training, field training, and probation, a Berea officer will make $30,114 under the revised schedule.

In the case of the Berea Fire Department, the starting salary for a firefighter in Berea was as low as $21,000, while the Madison County Fire Department paid $22,000 a year to start, and Richmond firefighters started at $27,000 per year. Under the new pay scale, the beginning salary for a Berea firefighter will now be $23,000. After the completion of probation, the same firefighter will earn $25,500, and after becoming a certified instructor, will earn $27,000.

Mayor Steve Connelly said studies have shown that Berea’s salaries are comparable after a worker is at the city for five years or more, but that officials decided workers need to be paid more at the beginning in order for Berea to continue to be competitive among prospective candidates, and to retain current employees.

“The issue of recruitment and retention is especially important with police and fire. We have tried to scrutinize the problem with our starting salaries lagging and continuing to be somewhat short for the first five years,” Connelly said. “The real focus was to try to bring the first five years up so that we would be attracting and retaining qualified personnel.”

Connelly added that in conducting the study of personnel salaries, officials also discovered that workers from the Street Department were also lagging far behind in compensation when compared to other agencies.

Under the old scale, the lowest paid Street Department worker made approximately $19,000 a year. Under the new scale, that will be revised upward to roughly $21,000.

Two new city employees who immediately benefited from salary hike included police officers hired on Tuesday night: Officer Aaron Hall and Officer Jarad Northern.

Aaron Hall and Jarad Northern will begin their classes at the police academy on October 2, according to Berea Police Chief Dwayne Brumley. An additional officer and telecommunicator Tina Smith will soon be hired as well. Aaron Hall’s twin brother, Adam, was hired onto the police department this summer and is approximately half way through the academy, Brumley said.

During a brief ceremony, Mayor Steve Connelly swore in Hall and Northern, and welcomed them to the Berea Police Department.
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