Lafayette’s City Council is primed to approve an election year pay raise for the city’s fire and police employees, but in a throwback to similar raises in 2019, neither the council nor the mayor-president has offered a long-term plan to fund it.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory is pushing a $3.2 million raise for firefighters and police officers that would raise starting pay for police from $40,000 to $47,000 a year and bump newly hired firefighters from about $34,700 to almost $37,000. Police and fire employees also earn an additional $7,200 in annual supplemental pay from the state after reaching POST certification or a year on the job, respectively.
The plan is largely a bid to address dozens of vacancies within the police department that have mounted since the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality protests of 2020.
“This is an imminent situation,” Guillory told the council Tuesday. “We do have some openings that I feel would put us in a much more competitive advantage to have this starting pay.”
Guillory, who is running for reelection this fall, said Tuesday the raises are financially sound, but so far missing from his proposal is a long-term plan to pay for the increased personnel costs, a point that only City Council Chairman Glenn Lazard, who is not seeking a second term, raised at Tuesday’s council meeting.
It’s a similar situation to that faced by the former City-Parish Council during Lafayette’s last round of elections in 2019, when it approved raises for fire and police totaling $6.4 million a year without a plan to offset the impact to the city’s general fund.
That and other deficit spending threatened to wipe out the city’s savings within just a few years. The raises’ hit to the city’s general fund was largely averted by cuts to other departments in 2020, vacancies in police jobs and the council’s creation of a $10 million fire and police reserve fund using one-time federal COVID-19 stimulus money at Guillory’s insistence in 2020.
The threat from the $3.2 million pay increase this year is substantially smaller, but it may again leave the city using one-time savings money for recurring annual expenses.
This time, Guillory’s administration is pushing the council to adopt the raises immediately and make them effective in September, though he has so far only released a plan to fund them through October by pulling some $500,000 from the city’s fire and police reserve fund, which has dropped to $4.9 million since being established in 2020.
Guillory’s proposed budget doesn’t plan to spend the fire and police reserve fund’s $4.9 million next year, but it has been used in recent years to offset the cost of fire and police salaries. Relying on that fund for this fall’s $500,000 in raises and next year’s $3.2 million would leave it penniless in less than two years, ultimately sticking the city’s $41 million cash reserves with the bill.
Council members were nevertheless supportive of the raises Tuesday and will vote Aug. 22 to make them effective in September and October. The City Council will also have a public hearing Aug. 15, where it will consider how to pay for the $3.2 million increase in next year’s budget.
Without a plan to offset the cost of the new raises, long-term reliance on the city’s spare cash could eat away at its savings and entirely wipe out its fire and police reserve fund, particularly with Guillory’s insistence Tuesday that starting pay for police should be raised to at least $50,000 — which would make Lafayette second only to New Orleans — and that raises for higher-ranking officers should be considered in the coming months.