DeKalb latest metro Atlanta area to boost officer pay

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 4 percent pay raise for public safety employees Tuesday morning. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond proposed the salary increase last week.

In addition to police and firefighters, the pay raise also extends to sheriff’s deputies, medical examiner investigators, the marshal’s office, solicitor general’s investigators, and 911 communications center employees. The proposal was amended before the vote to include juvenile court investigators and probation officers.

The public safety pay raise — estimated to cost $7.1 million — will take effect on the Nov. 9 pay period for 2,100 employees. The raise follows a 3 percent raise granted earlier this year to DeKalb employees whose salaries had not been adjusted since 2016.

"I am delighted that we're able to make a significant investment in improving DeKalb's public safety system," Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview Tuesday. The raises are thanks in part to the county's $89 million rainy day fund.

The raises come nearly eight months after the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners quietly voted to increase their salaries by nearly 60 percent. Attorney General Chris Carr said that controversial vote on the commission's raises violated the Open Meetings Act, but could not be reversed since the 90-day window to contest it had passed.

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The public safety raises make the county more competitive when recruiting police officers, firefighters and E-911 employees, officials said.

The base salary for a police officer without a college degree is $39,296 before the raise, and $41,261 for officers with a degree. E-911 and firefighter recruits are making $34,364 and $37,652 respectively before the increase.

The salary increase will bring the base pay for police officers without a degree to $40,868; for officers with college degrees, the 4 percent bump means a new base pay of about $42,911.

E-911 employees and fire recruits will be at $35,739 and $39,158 following the increase.

With the increase, DeKalb’s officer salaries are more in line with similar metro Atlanta areas.

The starting salary for an Atlanta police officer with a high school diploma is $40,000; it increases to $42, 800 for an officer with a four-year college degree and can top out at more than $55,000.

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In Gwinnett County, police officer trainees start at $38,642 and $40,960 with a four-year degree. Higher level police officers earn more than $49,000 and $52,000 with a four-year degree. After two years, officers are also eligible for a non-competitive promotion provided they complete certain training requirements. The county also has a 12-step pay system with 4 percent annual raises and offer education incentives.

DeKalb County is the latest metro Atlanta government to propose increasing salaries for its police department. Last week, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed legislation approving a substantial boost — 30 percent over the next three years — in an effort to retain and recruit police officers.

Roswell City Council also approved a 10 percent pay increase for sworn members of the police department, at a total cost of $840,670 this fiscal year. The department also cited competitiveness and retention issues as reasons for the pay increase.

Thurmond said raises could come for DeKalb’s other 4,000 employees as early as next year.

“We’re looking now to see how we can improve salary and compensation in 2019,” he said. He is expected to announce his fiscal year 2019 budget proposal in December.

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