City of Huntsville employees given raise, firefighter pay parity off the table

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- It's been weeks since the debate first began over what the city of Huntsville should do with $1.2 in funding the mayor had asked be dedicated to Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, for city employees.

Huntsville firefighters had asked for equal pay to their police counterparts. It was something the Huntsville Firefighters Association had been battling for more than 15 months. They wanted to know if the money would go toward that cause.

A Huntsville budget passed without a decision in September.

On Thursday's agenda, the issue was set to come before the council again. Council member Will Culver pulled the pay parity discussion from the agenda, though, which cleared the way for Mayor Tommy Battle to introduce the COLA increase. Council members approved placing it on the agenda, and later approved the increase without opposition.

"The firefighters are getting a raise, just like every employee in the city is," said City Administrator John Hamilton.

City employees from the Water Pollution Control Department came to the meeting to see the outcome. One of them approached the mic to say, "Thank you, to the men and women of the council. We appreciate all that you do."

Shane Cook, director of the Water Pollution Control Department, said, "It's obviously good for all the employees, but especially the employees who are lower down on the pay scale. They need everything they can get... You hear a lot about the firemen and the police department. I send my men into extremely adverse conditions every day. Situations and conditions that a lot of people, no matter what you pay them, you could not get them to do."

City officials say the COLA increase was the right thing to do with the funds.

"We've got to make sure that the salaries we are offering to all of our employees are competitive with businesses around us as well as other governments," said Hamilton. "We've got to make sure we are paying them fairly."

Mayor Battle said he appreciates all the city employees.

"Every person who works for the city of Huntsville provides a service day in and day out that makes this city get all the accolades that we get," he said.

The 1% increase goes to 2200 people, said Hamilton. He added that if firefighters want to push the ordinance fighting for pay parity now that this money has been allocated, they would likely need to use the city's capital investments to fund it. That, he says, could affect how the city maintains its infrastructure.