Help Support Gary police, firefighters rally for higher wages

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Article published on Sept. 16 by

“GARY | More than 60 city police officers and firefighters picketed Tuesday outside Gary City Hall to seek pay raises and better equipment.

Many stood in plain clothes holding signs saying “lowest paid in the county” and “where’s the county tax money?” before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Gary police officers are among the lowest-paid in the region, officials have said.

Police haven’t received a raise since 2007, said Sam Abegg, president of Gary Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61.

The department’s starting salary is $35,646, he said. For a patrolman, annual salary increases to $39,304 after two years on the job, he said.

Gary officers would need a 25 percent raise just to get close to what other local police make, he said.

Abegg referred to Tuesday night’s rally as an “informational meeting.”

“This is in response to the notion that they’re going to pass the budget without any raises to police or fire,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to step in and voice our concerns.”

Abegg said there’s no way the city will sustain economic development without public safety.

Gary police Cpl. Doug Drummond has been with the department for nine years and has a family of six.

“We’re basically living in poverty level,” he said. “I choose to work here. I don’t want to leave. It would be good faith to show public safety is a main concern. We need better.”

Gary firefighter and vice president of Gary Firefighters Association Local 359 Michael Collins said they haven’t had a contract in seven years and a raise in nine years.

“Station conditions are deplorable,” he said. “Every day we’re operating with less and less equipment. We’re really at the point where we’re being asked to do more with less. And we’re almost at the point where we’re going to be asked to do something with nothing.”

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Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson released a statement prior to the council meeting saying she understands police and fire personnel are frustrated about the disparity between their pay and counterparts throughout Northwest Indiana.

Freeman-Wilson said contributing factors have been the impact of property tax caps and the reduced collection rate over the past seven years. She said she’s working with leadership in the police and fire departments and members of the council to come up with both short-term and long-term solutions. One is a change in the clothing allowance for police and fire personnel for 2014 and 2015 by adding an additional $1,500 per year.

Additionally, a group would be immediately convened consisting of individuals from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Gary Firefighter’s Union, the City Council and the mayor’s office to identify changes to the salary structure that can be made within the confines of the existing budget as well as future changes to the compensation of police and fire personnel. The work of this group would be complete by the end of 2014 and would lead to changes effective in 2015 and beyond.

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