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City council OKs raises for first responders



Eighty uniformed personnel turned out for two city council meetings in West Memphis to personally push for pay increases. Mayor Marco Mc-Clendon told the city board the raises were required to recruit and retain new officers.

Mayor McClendon articulated the need during a city council work session at the end of April. City council member were surprised when 90 uniformed police and firefighters showed up for the session.

“I am concerned about the city within the city,” said Mc-Clendon. “Southland attracts 30,000 people on the weekend doubling the size of our city. The raises make us competitive with other towns in the Mid-South. We are losing young officers to those other suburban departments. There are some looking to leave right now.”

Police officers patrol the casino on overtime hours reimbursed to the department by Southland. With the compliment of patrol officers running below staff budget both everyday patrol and extra day casino staffing had run short according to Assistant Chief Brent Bradley.

“Southland called for a conversation with me,” said Bradley. “If we can’t staff them properly, they’ll look elsewhere, like the sheriff department, to get it well covered.”

The fire department said call demand from Southland was high. They planned to re-open

See RAISES, page A3

West Memphis Police Chief Robbin Campbell, Inspector Queen McMahon, and Patrol Division Captain Jim Presley applauded city council approval for immediate raises for rank-and-file officers and fire firefighters. City administration had asked for a July effective date but in a surprise move on the floor on Thursday, ward representatives found no reason to wait.

Photo by John Rech RAISES

From page A1

a fire station in order to properly respond to a highrise alarm at the new hotel and have one battalion left to cover the rest of the city. EMS Division Chief Derrick Clay proved his point with numbers.

“We answered 700 Southland calls last year,’ said Clay. “We plan that the call will double with the new expansion and hotel.”

Fire Chief Barry Ealy told council members that a high-rise firefighting standard required the equivalent of an entire shift to turnout in the event of a fire call to the hotel. He echoed the recruit and retain refrain of the mayor.

“We plan on reopening old fire station 3 on West Barton to have reserve to take care of the rest of the city during an event at the hotel,” said Ealy. We will need to not only retain the firefighters we have now, but we need to staff another company to adequately protect the city.”

The mayor proposed a $545,000 pay increase during the last half of 2022 for first responders ranked lieutenant. The details he expressed amounted to a $3 per hour raise for the rankand- file police officers and $1.50 for the frontline fire fighters.

Councilman Tracy Catt extrapolated the numbers and projected them to next year and pondered future funding. The city council had forced the administration cut two million dollars from its budget request for 2021 to produce a balanced budget projection just six months ago.

“With the cost-of-living considerations and raises for top ranking officers we are looking somewhere well north of one million dollars for next year,” said Catt.

As the full city council meeting convened it was the aldermen that held the Suprise for police and firefighters packed into council chamber.

Six of the ten city councilmen criticized the mayor for not having a detailed financial overview of the raises ready for their analysis. The mayor produced no budget amendment. McClendon emphasized the hoped-for Southland tax revenue increases would cover the cost of the bump for first responders, but had no numbers specifics laid out for either income or cost by rank or expanded responder rosters. Council members, Wayne Croom, James Holt, Charles Wheeless, Tracy Catt and Lorraine Mohammed echoed Dr. Gheric Bruce’s concerns over the lack of documentation of the pay deal.

“That’s not how you properly do business,” said Bruce. “It’s not that I’m against raises for police and fire department, it’s that I would like to see in black and white on paper how we are going to give these raises before we act. You have put the cart before the horse.”

Councilman Croom wanted raises for the police brass added to the proposal. In the end he offered a failed amendment to the proposal asking for a two week delay in consideration as council members awaited spread sheet specifics.

“With all due respect we are not losing our top officers, we are losing our younger officers,” replied McClendon. “Quite frankly we need a youth movement to staff our ranks. This is about recruiting and retaining.”

Catt continued to ponder counting on Southland funding to pay for the raises. He thought the increases casino money stream would cover the request but couldn’t be sure with the absence of any analysis.

“The city must staff police and fire first and foremost,” said Catt. “Those are the two most important departments in the city. You really can’t have any kind of city without them. The possibility exists where we will have to meet to consider cuts. We already cut two million out of this year’s budget. What about next year?”

Councilwoman Loraine Mohammed cross examined the budget chairman Catt. She also expressed concern over the lack of documentation as the vote loomed.

“Councilman Catt, in your opinion will we have enough for the increase and the hiring of up to an additional seven officers?” asked Mohammed.

Catt affirmed her question but restated concerns.

Mohammed floored the chamber with her next motion.

“I move we grant the proposed $3 raise for officers and $1.50 per hour raise for the firefighters immediately on the next paycheck,” said Mohammed.

In the discussion on the motion some city council members again pressed for written details on the pay raise.

“I should hope in the next week or ten days we have solid detailed numbers in front of us for analysis,” said Catt.

City council voted unanimously in a roll call vote for immediate raises. The uniformed responders rose in a round of standing applauds at the approval.

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