Relief?By ANTHONY WARREN,
Jackson police have the lowest pay and highest living expenses when compared to their counterparts in comparable cities.
However, relief could soon be on the way.
As part of his 2019 budget, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is proposing an across-the-board two-percent pay raise for all municipal employees.
The raise would be the first increase for police officers in years. Even with the increase, officers in the capital city would still be challenged with making ends meet.
Based on current pay, after one year of service, rank-in-file police in Jackson earn around $31,000, compared to around $35,700 for officers in Mobile, $34,700 for officers in Shreveport, and $40,000 for officers in Little Rock.
Meanwhile, the cost of living in Jackson is hundreds to thousands of dollars a year greater.
Average rental costs for a 900-square foot dwelling in Jackson runs from $12,500 a year to $18,984, according to Expatistan.com, a cost-of-living comparison Web site.
By comparison, average rental rates for a similar dwelling in Mobile would run from $8,940 to $11,592; $9,408 to $15,084 in Shreveport; and $11,316 to $14,328 a year in Little Rock, the Web site states.
Those amounts do not include food, utilities, transportation, insurance or entertainment costs.
Utility costs in Jackson are slightly lower than Mobile, Shreveport and Little Rock, while food prices are comparable, according to Expatistan figures.
For an officer making $31,000, a two-percent raise would equate to roughly $620 a year pay hike.
Jackson city officials acknowledge that the raise is not enough but a start.
“The big thing for us is that we came into office with a nearly $6 million shortfall and all employees on furlough,” said Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine. “The big thing is that we’ve been able to move from a shortfall to a $7.8 million surplus and raises for all city employees.”
Blaine was referring to the Furlough Friday program implemented by former Mayor Tony Yarber.
With the furloughs, most city employees were required to take one Friday off each month without pay.
The furlough, along with low pay and strict residency requirements, have been attributed to shortages within the department.
The furloughs were ended at the start of the 2018 budget year, which began on October 1, 2017.
Under the city’s former residency requirements, all new hires had to live in the city limits or move into Jackson within 12 months of being hired.
The Jackson City Council did away with those requirements for the Jackson Police Department and Jackson Fire Department last October.
Even with those changes, JPD continues to lose officers.
In early August, JPD had approximately 335 sworn officers, more than 80 fewer than the 418 allowed in the current year budget.
The number represents the fewest officers the department has had in years, according to figures provided in the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).
Police Chief James Davis credited the shortage to low pay. He said the officers leave once they’re trained because they can make more money with other departments. Others leave to work at area hospitals, which pay more than JPD.
Davis was looking into several options to increase pay, including reducing the number of budgeted officers and using funds set aside for those positions to increase salaries for current officers.
Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote wants more information before he would consider the idea.
“What I would need is an assurance that whatever the number of employees they come up with would be sufficient to man all beats without necessitating overtime,” he said. “Before we reduce the number of officers to give pay raises, we need to ensure that we have the right number to cover Jackson.”
Under state statute, JPD must have at least one officer assigned to each beat during each shift.
Jackson is divided into 44 beats, meaning the department must have 44 officers working each shift, each day. That number does not include investigative units, supervisory staff or support staff.
Rather than reducing the size of the force, Lumumba’s staff is looking to build it. The city is providing funding for two recruit classes, one that will begin this year and one that will likely get under way in the next budget year.
The council is also asking the department to do a payroll study to determine how pay can be increased for officers at all levels.
“We realize the low pay is a deterrent to attracting and retaining officers,” said Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay. “This is an issue that several of us on the council discussed during the budget hearing and remain very concerned about.”
Budget hearings were ongoing last week. The budget must be approved by September 15, according to state statute.