Winston-Salem police, fire fall 10 percent short of Triad average for starting pay

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Winston-Salem city leaders are working to try to make it a little easier to make a living as a police officer or firefighter for the city.

Currently, the starting pay for a police officer trainee in Winston-Salem is $31,494. For firefighting trainees, the starting pay is even lower at $29,852.

A study done by the City of Winston-Salem shows that both of those figures are about 10 percent lower than that average starting salaries for departments across the Triad.

“In my opinion, if we don't at least get on par with other departments we are going to continually lag behind in salaries which will still leave officers looking at other options with other departments where they can make better money,” said Lt. Danny Watts, a 26-year veteran who went before city council in November with pay concerns.

“We've lost about 75 officers in the past three years -- most of which were very experienced officers,” said Watts. “Most of those officers are leaving our department to go to other departments locally for police departments because they can receive better pay.”

Winston-Salem Chief of Police Barry Rountree also feels like the 12 percent turnover rate since 2012 is hurting the department.

“It's not like you can hire a police officer today and put him to work tomorrow,” said Rountree. “Hiring a police officer is about a year-long process. Going through basic law enforcement training takes six to eight months, then there are three months in training before we can release an officer to work independently.”

On Tuesday, the city council had its first look at a plan to increase police and fire salaries by 7.5 percent. The pay increases would be spread out over a five-year period and bring Winston-Salem within 3 percent of the average starting pay for Triad cities according to the city-done study.

Salaries for current employees would also get a boost and the city estimates about 30 percent of employees would receive the increase in pay.

There was also discussion about possibly implementing a step pay program so that police officers who are new to the force can see when they can expect merit-based increases in pay along with other adjustments.

The study also looked into reasons why officers leave Winston-Salem. It found better pay is the reason 80 percent of officers leave with just 20 percent putting in their two weeks because of personal reasons such as family relocation or joining the military.

Chief Rountree said not all officers leave for Triad-area jobs, citing some officers finding work as far away as Austin, Texas.

The city council will review the information and reconvene in January with a potential vote on the matter in the cards.

“This is a decision that will be made based on our taxes so I know council wants some additional information, but as fast as they can move would be beneficial to all of us,” said Rountree.