Annual report draws questions about pay for Albany firefighters

Albany Fire Department Chief Cedric Scott gives highlights of his annual report on Tuesday to the Albany City Commission.

ALBANY — A review of the pay of Albany Fire Department employees uncovered no unfairness in individual firefighters’ pay, although there are some policy issues that have caused some friction for employees.

In delivering an annual report on the department during a Tuesday Albany City Commission work session, Fire Chief Cedric Scott said that one issue that has emerged is a 6% raise granted to police officers that were not given to firefighters.

Another issue identified is that there are instances where supervisors draw a smaller salary than subordinate employees.

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“That has created an issue that won’t go away,” Scott said of the 6% pay raise for all Albany Police Department officers from the rank of major down that was approved in the city’s 2020-2021 budget. “The question is why is this different. Fire is part of public safety.”

In response, Mayor Bo Dorough said that the pay raise for police officers was meant to address the city’s ability to recruit and retain them.

“What my answer is, is frankly we are significantly understaffed,” Dorough said of the police department. “We continue to lose officers. We had evidence our officers are making less than (those) in comparable agencies.”

One suggestion put forward was to perform a review of similar fire departments in other cities to determine whether Albany’s firefighters are receiving equitable pay.

The review of Albany firefighters did not uncover any abnormalities in pay, Scott said. The review looked at whether the employees received their regular salary increases over time and at the correct percentage, which he said was found to be the case.

“What I’ve heard on the street (is a) perceived inequity in the ranks” with some 40 grievances filed, Commissioner Chad Warbington said. “There’s a feeling there’s some grievances, and we’re saying there’s not, so there’s not.”

One factor found that can account for newer firefighters earning more than their counterparts with more time with the agency is that some employees decline a promotion opportunity. In other instances, a newer firefighter has acquired more certifications in a shorter period of time that boosts his or her pay.

An initiative to recruit firefighters who may be in other jobs has paid off, Scott told commissioners, with nearly all of 18 recent hires coming through that effort.

The department has 157 budgeted firefighter positions to staff seven Albany stations and four stations to provide fire protection in unincorporated Dougherty County

“We put a process in place with human resources and the city manager that now you can become a firefighter, no experience needed, we’ll train you,” Scott said. “That will give people in the community the chance to have a better life and (engage) in public service.”

In other discussion, Commissioner Demetrius Young revisited a vote taken last week to allow an alcohol license for package beer and wine sales at a South Jefferson Street convenience store in his district.

Young said that the process seems weighted toward businesses in that an applicant gets a hearing when the commission denies a license request, but that residents do not always get the chance to weigh in.

“It seems like both sides ought to have an appeal, both on approval or denial,” he said. “I want to look at the rules because we’re kind of disenfranchising the residents because we are not hearing those voices.”

Dorough suggested a requirement that applicants place a sign at the proposed location prior to the issue coming to the commission similar to those required on property ahead of zoning hearings.

Currently, applicants are required to place a newspaper advertisement prior to the work session during which an application is to be discussed.

Dorough’s suggestion can be included in a draft ordinance being prepared that also could include an earlier idea or requiring a larger legal ad City Attorney Nathan Davis said.

A “tombstone ad” with a border would make the advertisements stand out from other legal notices, he said.

“I would suggest we do both,” he said.

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