Jacksonville City Council panel recommends pay raise for fire chief
by Laura Gaddy
Aug 16, 2013 | 3263 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — A Jacksonville firefighter made the case Thursday to a City Council committee that his department’s chief needs a pay raise.

That firefighter, David Bell, stood before three councilmen and contended that Chief Wade Buckner, who makes about $48,000 a year, is underpaid. After a 40-minute discussion, Bell, who is vice president of the Jacksonville Fire Fighters Association, got the response he had sought.

The committee members, Jerry Parris, Truman Norred and Jonathan Tompkins, voted in favor of giving the chief a 9 percent raise. In order for the raise to take effect, however, the committee's recommendation must be approved by the full five-person City Council. The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26.

Mayor Johnny Smith said Thursday that he is aware that not just Buckner, but many city department heads, don’t receive competitive wages. In response, the committee voted to recommend that the city conduct a personnel study to review the structure of each city department and the salary of all department heads.

Assistant Chief Randy Childs was also on hand at the meeting and he advocated for the pay raise. He said Buckner does a good job, that he is underpaid and that the fire department needs him at the helm.

If he gets the 9 percent pay increase the committee recommended, Buckner will see his salary increase by about $4,300, to about $52,000.

Bell and Childs said that Buckner is uniquely qualified for the job because he maintains a paramedic certification, which Bell argued entitles him to the 9 percent pay increase. That’s because the department already offers a 9 percent raise to any firefighter that maintains a paramedic’s certification.

“He is actually hands-on and this is a great asset to the city of Jacksonville,” Bell said.

Buckner's 14 employees with paramedic licenses are already receiving that pay, but he is not. Buckner also responds to emergencies as a paramedic as needed.

“I’m really flattered and humbled more than anything that they think that much of me, because I think that much of them,” Buckner said, when called after the meeting. Buckner did not attend the meeting.

Buckner has been on the job since 2009 and qualified for one pay raise in that time, which brought his salary up to the $48,000 he now makes. That’s less than the starting pay that fire chiefs in Alabama cities of a comparable size qualified for in 2011, according to a report produced by Auburn University.

Buckner’s salary is so low that one third of his 22 employees are paid more than him, Bell said. That’s because Buckner’s employees are paid to work 50 hours per week, while he is paid to work 40 hours per week.

Some employees who make less money than he does per hour, still make more than he does per paycheck.

Norred, a volunteer firefighter, said Jacksonville firefighters declined to apply for the chief’s position because they would have had to take a pay cut to do the job.

“Several of them would have loved to have the job, but they couldn't afford the pay cut,” Norred said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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