Baton Rouge police officers would get an across-the-board 3% pay bump under Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's proposed budget for next year.
And the city-parish’s minimum wage for full-time employees and seasonal workers would jump to $10.04 per hour should the Metro Council approve Broome’s projected budget for 2021, which she presented to them on Thursday.
The bump for police pay is lower than what the department has been pushing for, since it still doesn’t bring them to what officers throughout the region or nation earn annually.
But Broome’s administration said the proposed pay increase is their first step in trying to close that gap.
“We know they deserve a raise and we made, what I think, is an honorable step in the right direction,” Broome said. “We’ve done this for our officers through efficiencies without having to increase taxes on our citizens.”
Paying officers more was a promise Broome made ahead of this week’s municipal elections, in which she was thrust into a runoff next month against former state Rep. Steve Carter. Carter also made increasing pay for Baton Rouge police officers a cornerstone of his campaign.
In a prepared statement Thursday Carter called the proposed pay increase a “necessary tool” to increase the department’s attractiveness so that the city can recruit the best officers.
“It is unfortunate that an increased number of officers are leaving the city police in search of a better salary and improved working environment were necessary to prompt this expected pay raise,” Carter said. “However, these are steps that the Carter administration, when elected, will take across the finish line to improve East Baton Rouge’s public safety crisis.”
Baton Rouge police officers are some of the lowest paid in the region. The proposed 3% bump will take starting pay for the city's officers to $34,986 annually once they've graduated from the academy and have spent six months on the job.
That still falls short of what an efficiency study of the police department's operations said it would take to bring their annual pay on par with peer agencies. But doing that would cost the parish $21 million a year, according to the same study.
The estimated cost of the 3% raise to the city’s officers is around $1.8 million annually.
"This is our first step in bringing them closer to their peers," Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said before the council's special meeting Thursday afternoon. "We've been working with the police department since February after the efficiency study results came out. We did some of the recommendations to find the money to do this."
With additional merit increases and state supplemental pay, Gissel noted new Baton Rouge officers would earn about $42,000 year after the first year on the job.
To address staffing shortfalls within the city's police force, Broome's administration has also set aside money to fund two police academies next year and one fire academy.
Broome's proposed spending plan for next year is roughly 2.45% — or $24.6 million — less than the $1 billion budget the Metro Council adopted for 2020.
In her budget message to Metro Council members Thursday she acknowledged the financial strains the coronavirus pandemic has placed on the city-parish's coffers. To help supplement a projected $6.3 million revenue loss to the parish’s general fund, her administration had to pull approximately $9.4 million out of the parish's reserve funds to balance next year's $982.1 million budget.
The allocation will shrink the city-parish’s reserve funds from $15.9 million down to $12 million, according to Finance Director Linda Hunt.
“This is what that this for,” she said. “We still feel our reserves are in good shape.”
The local economists Broome’s administration consulted while drafting the proposed budget have said Baton Rouge is expected to make a full recovery from the economic downturn and job losses associated with the pandemic by the end of 2022.
Broome’s spending plan also sets aside funding to expand the city-parish’s Emergency Medical Services by funding the creation of 32 additional medic positions and purchasing three new emergency transport vehicles in 2021.
The expenditure will help EMS improve its call response times amidst a growing demand for the service in the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic.
The Metro Council will hold a special meeting Dec. 8 to consider adopting Broome's proposed budget. Before then, the council will likely hold a few public meetings in which certain aspects of the budget will be discussed.