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Firefighter discontent waning, mayor says

[9/18/01]Mayor Laurence Leyens said Monday that discontent among firefighters about an $8,000-a-year increase in the starting pay for police officers has waned and was the result of miscommunication.

The topic arose in Monday’s city board meeting, a week after a delegation of firefighters appeared.

Starting Oct. 1, base pay for first-year police officers will rise from $24,581 to $32,422. Base pay for firefighters will remain the same.

“We as a board made a decision that the police department will be our top priority because in my opinion it has been largely ignored,” Leyens said.

A week ago, about 45 firefighters went to the city board to question why raises were planned for the police, but not the fire department. Some said the mayor’s message was that a firefighter’s life is less valuable than a police officer’s.

“I never said that,” Leyens said Monday. “What I said was that the actual duties that a firefighter performs and a police officer performs are not the same.”

By tradition in Vicksburg, as they are in many other municipalities, fire and police salaries have been equal.

Leyens also said that a new pay scale for firefighters is in the works.

“If we are working on a strategy that doesn’t make sense, then I invite the public to come forward and comment,” Leyens said.

With budgeted overtime, a rookie officer in the Vicksburg Police Department will make $10,000 more than a Jackson police officer and also more than a 25-year teacher in local public schools.

Overall, however, the police department budget is smaller because positions are being eliminated. No personnel cuts are planned in the fire department.

In other matters, the board:

Awarded bids for fire hydrants and stone material.

Approved a change order in the amount of $10,000 to install additional drainage on First East Street.

Declared an emergency to repair a storm drain that collapsed under National Street. The cost of the repairs will be about $24,000.

Authorized a feasibility study to convert the water treatment plant from chlorine gas to chlorine liquid.

Approved an advertising request by the River City Business & Professional Women for a 1/4-page ad in the Jingle Bell Junction program booklet. The cost is $200.

Requested that the state add six homes to a project in Kings that connects low-income homes to sewer lines at no cost to residents.

Authorized a grant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $19,602 with a local match of $2,178 for a wellness program for city firefighters and $7,875 with a 10 percent local match to provide smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors for elderly.

During a closed session, upheld a suspension of Detective Al Farrish for violating city policy; denied a request for administrative leave in the personnel department; terminated an employee in the water main department; and hired Andrea Newman as the new director of the Vicksburg Senior Center.

The board will meet again at 10 a.m., Sept. 25 at City Hall Annex.