Jonesboro City Council enacts incentive based police pay increases

by George Jared ([email protected]) 485 views 

Jonesboro City Council members voted 10-1 to adopt a salary increase plan for Jonesboro police officers. The move ended months of bitter discussions between law officers, their families, and elected city officials. The standing room only chamber erupted into applause after the measure was adopted.

Alderman Darrel Dover voted against the increase. He and Alderman Chris Gibson voted against the third reading of the ordinance, but in the final adoption vote, Gibson switched. After the meeting Dover didn’t comment, and he left the chamber hall.

“We’ve taken care of the police … now we’re going to take care of the non-uniform workers,” Mayor Harold Perrin said as the pro-police crowd erupted into cheers a second time.

Aldermen approved the proposal that would increase the average police officer’s pay by $2,848. Sergeants and captains could get an increase of more than $5,000, while lieutenants could get more than $3,000. The assistant chief would get $8,744, and the police chief could get up to a $9,621. All the increases are based on incentive programs, and other factors that affect individual employees, Jonesboro Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Allen said previously.

The average starting police officer makes about $33,000 per year, according to the city. These proposed wage increases would cost more than $600,000 to implement this year, and would steadily grow to $1.5 million per year by 2022, Allen said.

It was pointed out later that firefighters haven’t received a raise. Council members will consider raises for firefighters and non-uniform workers in the coming weeks.

Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott told Talk Business & Politics he was shocked by the unexpected final vote. The measure was expected to be carried at least until the first meeting in October.

“I was pleasantly surprised. … I think it’s time for the city to move forward,” he said.

In the last five years, Jonesboro has lost at least 77 police officers. The city’s pay scale is less than other cities of comparable size around the state. Offering competitive pay and incentives will allow the city to retain good officers and recruit more certified officers when there are openings. It takes up to eight months to train an uncertified officer, which costs the city not only dollars, but safety, he said.

There was some opposition to the pay plan that will add $646,000 in additional salaries to the police budget this year alone. City accountant Mike Burroughs said sales tax receipts had increased by 5% the last year, and had consistently grown in the last several years. But, it’s inevitable the economy will wane at some point, and revenues will drop, he said.

When sales tax receipts slow, city workers might have to take pay cuts or worse yet, some might lose their jobs, he said. Burroughs said officers deserve a pay raise, but the city needed to guard its reserve funds. Many in the crowd grumbled and disputed Burroughs as he spoke. Alderman John Street offered a strong rebuke towards Burroughs when he was finished.

“You’ve got to have public safety … without it, the city won’t exist,” Street said.

Alderman Charles Frierson grew weary of the back and forth arguments between Burroughs, Street, Dover, and others. At one point, he all but stood up and said it was time to quit bickering and vote.

“We need to get this out of the way … we need to get it done, and then we’ll deal with the other employees,” he said.