Benjamin wants movement on 6% raise for firefighters - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Benjamin wants movement on 6% raise for firefighters

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin delivered his annual State of the City address Wednesday night after keeping a relatively low profile before the high profile speech. 

The mayor talked about the city's major accomplishments throughout his 30 months in the position.

Among those accomplishments: infrastructure improvements, a declining unemployment rate, lower crime, better finances, a stronger police force, and an improved quality of life.

"We have gone from a financial crisis, a depleted reserve fund, and employees on furlough to an improved credit rating and three straight years of budget surplus. We've added over $8 million in public safety funding, saved over $12.6 million by refinancing our city bonds and gave our employees their first cost of living pay raise in four years and we've done it without raising taxes," said Benjamin.

Benjamin also honored outgoing City Manager Steve Gantt in the speech, praising the retiring Gantt for his leadership on fiscal issues and other matters.

New City Manager Teresa Wilson also received mention. Benjamin praised her "impeccable qualifications" and directed her to begin movement on a 6.67 percent pay raise for city firefighters that was promised to them back in 2007. 

"Chief Jenkins has the money in his budget right now to make it happen and it's time we let him use it," said Benjamin.

Columbia Firefighter's Association president Marquis Soloman says in 2007, they were supposed to see a 10 percent raise. They saw only a 3.8 percent increase.

"Once we had the budgetary issues in 2008, 2009, the raise was put on hold so this is just the second installment of that 10 percent raise," said Soloman.

Soloman says at this point they're owed a total of 18 percent. While the 6.67 percent makes up for lost time, he says more needs to be done in long run.

"It should help," said Soloman. "Now that's temporary fix. There are still other issues and the pay disparity is so great that we'll still have to look at other means to try to retain some of our employees. But this is a step in the right direction."

The mayor also says he supports a wage disparity study to figure out how to get all city employee salaries up to market value.

"It will have to suffice and hopefully stop the bleeding," said Soloman.

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