HENDERSON — Elected officials and City Manager Terrell Blackmon have put some of the money Henderson’s gotten from the federal government’s COVID-relief programs into boosting the pay of the city’s workers.

The most recent moves on that score came this fall and included a set of adjustments targeting the Henderson Fire Department, and a broader 3% “premium pay” supplement for all city staff.

The changes for the Fire Department included the incorporation of some mid-level positions, particularly a “master firefighter” that Blackmon said helps address the need to have “some steps in place to allow a young firefighter to have something to strive for as they gained tenure in the” department.

City Council members also signed off on a change to the department’s starting pay rate for firefighters that allows a new hire to earn $36,026 a year during their probationary rate, and $36,925 a year after completing that first six months.

Blackmon said that “puts us in better competition with Louisburg and Youngsville,” nearby communities that along with Wake Forest, Raleigh and Durham are the places that offer the strongest competition to Henderson in the quest for firefighters.

It “doesn’t get us to where Durham and Raleigh are,” given that both are among the state’s largest and most prosperous cities, he said.

But the council agrees that “within reason,” the city government has “to try to be competitive with the surrounding communities to ensure that we hire and retain a workforce that can provide the services the community expects,” he said.

And “part of what we’re dealing with is we just don’t have the tax base some of these other communities have,” Blackmon said, adding that while city leaders expect the Triangle’s growth to add fuel to the economy here, for the moment it’s doing so in places like Youngsville and Wake Forest.

Fire Chief Steve Cordell said the addition of the mid-level positions should help with retaining firefighters who’ve advanced far enough in their training that they can begin thinking about stepping up to driving and operating fire trucks.

As they completed their training requirements, “that’s when we started losing them,” Cordell said, name-checking the Chapel Hill, Cary and Mebane departments along with Wake Forest, Louisburg, Durham and Raleigh as ones that were able to treat Henderson as a fertile recruiting ground in the past three years.

City officials in the spring had already addressed similar concerns in the Henderson Police Department, approving an increase in the hiring rate for relatively new officers, some longevity supplements for veteran officers and some tinkering with the salary scales for the mid-level ranks.

That package for the police added about $107,000 to the city’s annual costs, and Blackmon said the fire changes are supposed to cost no more than $168,000.

The city’s likely to receive $4.7 million over the next two years from the fiscal-stimulus package Congress passed earlier in 2021. The pay changes are not the only thing officials will use the money on, as they’ve talked about the possibility of using portions to make up for lost revenue, subsidize urgent home repairs, aid small business and promote home ownership.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

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