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Firefighters raise issue unresolved

July 26, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After Martinsburg's mayor and city council members met with city Fire Chief Paul Bragg for more than an hour Thursday, Councilman Christopher Baker noted that the main issue - raises for firefighters - was unresolved.

"Whichever road we take, I think it is important ... that we make that decision of what we're going to do ... so there's not any animosity, any questions," Baker said.

However, Councilman Richard Yauger said the council made up its mind last month when it approved a series of raises.

Each city employee was guaranteed a raise of $1,000 to $1,700.

But while a starting firefighter's salary went up 5 percent, a starting police officer's salary was boosted almost 22 percent.

City officials said they are worried about attracting new officers and keeping the current ones from taking jobs with higher pay.

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The city Police Department has many openings, they noted.

Upset about the inequity, off-duty firefighters picketed City Hall for eight weekdays, breaking only for a holiday. They finally stopped because city officials refused to talk to them while they picketed.

At Thursday's joint meeting of the city council's Budget/Finance and Personnel committees, Mayor George Karos, reading from a written statement, said, "Hopefully, there will not be disruptions, as there was recently, in order to allow council and staff to work together in a more positive fashion to accomplish goals and objectives."

Bragg told the mayor and council members that other local fire departments offer better pay, too.

The morale of Martinsburg's firefighters is poor because of the pay disparity with the police and "people are not happy to come to work," he said.

Bragg has proposed adding 18 new firefighters over the next three years to keep pace with the city's growth, but council members said the city probably cannot afford both more firefighters and higher pay.

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