New compensation plan OK; special increases for the police

The Oak Ridge City Council approved an updated plan for employee compensation at its July meeting.

The plan includes raises for everyone, but most importantly the Oak Ridge Police Department. It was unanimously adopted as part of the meeting’s consent agenda without discussion. Chuck Hope, member of the city council, moved the approval of the updated plan and seconded by Kelly Callison. Mayor Warren Gooch was not present at the meeting.

In previous meetings, citizens, staff and Council members have spoken at length about pay issues. Some spoke of how City of Oak Ridge employees might struggle to keep up with the cost of living. Others said Oak Ridge wages were low compared to other cities.

While people from multiple departments had complaints, the police department was both at the center of discussion and change. City Manager Mark Watson said The starting salary for Oliver Springs Police Department officers is $20.48 an hour. At Oak Ridge, the entry level for a junior officer is $18.97 per hour.

The city released a note and a detail to plan within the framework of the municipal council of July 11 agendaavailable on the calendar page of the city’s website regarding all payroll changes.

Changes include the following:

  • Increase in the starting salary for the position of police officer/trainee.
  • A 4% salary increase for police officers as discussed at the second reading of the fiscal year 2023 budget. The increase will go into police pay levels for police officers/investigators (JJ), police sergeants (NN) and police lieutenants (QQ).
  • A 5% cost-of-living adjustment to all pay levels, as approved by City Council as part of the FY2023 budget. For police officers, the 5% is in addition to the 4% mentioned above.
  • Extend the salary ranges from step 1 to step 7 so that they are now from step 1 to step 14, with a smaller range before reaching the final pay level in each pay step . This was discussed during FY2022 budget approvals, but was not formally adopted into the plan.

The committee meets

A Committee addressed issues related to payroll issues at Oak Ridge. It met on July 7 and plans to continue to meet and discuss issues.

Committee members are City Council members Jim Dodson, Chuck Hope and Derrick Hammond. City Council member Ellen Smith, although not a member of the committee, joined the committee for its first meeting. The municipal council voted to create the committee at its June 15 meeting to explore compensation issues and make proposals.

The committee hasn’t voted on any proposals yet, but its members have been discussing different ideas and hearing statistics from Oak Ridge Fire Chief Travis Solomon.

“I think it will take a long time,” Gooch said of the committee and its study.

“Each department has its own unique parameters that we have to work with,” Hope said during that first committee meeting. During the meeting, he and Dodson spoke out in favor of compensating the city for the training.

“We have a higher tax base that we can fund some of these raises with,” Dodson said during the meeting regarding the city’s ability to fund wage increases.

Ben Pounds is a reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at bpounds@oakridger.com.


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