Fort Worth

Richland Hills Police, Fire Pay Raise Proposal Fails

Voters in Richland Hills rejected a proposal to give pay raises of several thousand dollars for firefighters and police officers, but some of the opponents were actually inside the police and fire departments.

"There's not a fire or police chief that wouldn't want the most pay and benefits they can possibly get for their employees," Fire Chief Russell Shelley said. "But, I think that has to be balanced against the city's capacity to maintain those salaries and benefits."

The city has a population of around 8,100 people, and nearly 73 percent of those who voted said "no" to the idea.

The proposition would've required the city, by ordinance, to raise all firefighter and police officers to a pay level no less than the average of all salaries and benefits of corresponding positions in the surrounding cities of Fort Worth, North Richland Hills, Hurst and Haltom City.

Fire and police officials said their staffs are much smaller than those cities. There are only 15 firefighters and 21 sworn officers.

"We're not even in the ballpark of the number of officers that they have," Police Capt. Sheena McEachran said. "We are comparable and a little bit higher [in pay] at some of the positions for other cities that we are comparable in size."

Officials said the raises would have caused major budget problems.

"We're talking about property tax increases, or you were talking about reductions in service," Shelley said. "In the fire department alone that could've meant staffing reductions. It could've meant outsourcing a portion or all of our services."

"It would have impacted the entire city [and] all the city departments," McEachran said.

Officials said they want their staffs well-paid but said voters realized what was at stake and said the staff understood as well.

"When they recognize that the potential impact of this proposition could mean that some of their brother firefighters were going to lose their jobs that was a pretty easy choice for them I believe," Shelley said.

The proposition came as the result of a petition start by a group of citizens.

"We had about 270 signatures," Garrit Spieker, 75, said.

Spieker said the idea was to make salaries competitive with surrounding communities to help fill vacancies in the departments.

He said even though his idea failed at the ballot, he still feels there was a small victory.

"The whole thing was worth the effort just to get it out in the open," Spieker said.

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