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Archive for Saturday, June 5, 2004

Police, firefighters in line for raise

2 percent cost-of-living increases also likely for rest of city’s work force

June 5, 2004

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Firefighters and police officers will be in line for 2 percent cost-of-living increases in their paychecks in 2005, under work agreements to be considered next week by the Lawrence City Commission.

That's good news for them, and the more than 700 city employees who also will be in line for their first pay increases in more than a year.

The commission on Tuesday is expected to approve new two-year agreements with the city's police and firefighter unions.

In addition to the 2 percent pay raise in the first year of the agreements with firefighters and police, the police pact restructures the pay scale for officers in an effort to smooth out salary inequalities with other area departments. Though not specifically spelled out in the agreements, police and firefighters would receive in 2006 at least the same increase as other city employees.

"I think it's going in the direction in which we, the association and the city, both want to go," said Officer Darren Othick, president of the 112-member Lawrence Police Officers Assn.

The police union was to conduct a ratification vote Friday night, but it was not known the whether the agreement was accepted. The local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has roughly 90 members, votes Monday; Lt. Kathy Elkins, the president, did not return calls for comment.

The new agreements come after police and firefighters worked in 2004 under one-year contracts that gave no pay raise. None of the more than 700 city employees received a cost-of-living increase this year.

Commission approval of the agreements means those other employees can also expect a raise in 2005. City Manager Mike Wildgen warned, however, that the raises mean money won't be available to buy new equipment or expand city services.

"This doesn't mean happy days are here again," Wildgen said of the raise.

Dunfield said commissioners were committed to giving city employees pay raises this year.

"We haven't looked at those particular numbers in a lot of detail yet," Dunfield said. "But I think the consensus was that the priority be some kind of salary increase.

A city-sponsored study in 2003 showed that Lawrence firefighters earn roughly the same as their counterparts in Shawnee, Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa and Lee's Summit, Mo. -- a $32,096 annual base pay compared to a $32,838 average base salary in the other cities.

But Lawrence police officers ranked seventh out of nine area communities for starting pay -- $32,890 a year, compared to an average $34,097 in the other departments. Detectives also made less compared to their counterparts; $39,927, less than the $42,623 paid elsewhere.

City and police union officials spent a year in negotiations, restructuring the pay scale so that new officers can more easily earn opportunities for merit-based pay increases.

The changes, Othick said, will help Lawrence "be more competitive in the marketplace, and to recognize senior officers and the work that they do."

The commission meets at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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