Charleston City council could consider taxes to pay for firefighter raises

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston firefighters have been campaigning for pay raises for a year, and city officials say they are listening and agree, but it is a matter of where the money will come from.

The city’s human resources committee did make a preliminary suggestion for cost-of-living increases across the board, and an additional adjustment to firefighter pay for the 2023 budget.

District 11 Councilman Ross Appel says he supports that, and everyone he has talked to on council seems in agreement.

“We do a lot at the City of Charleston, but our primary, our most important role is to keep our community safe,” Appel says. “Both citizens, businesses, and everything in between. That means police and fire.”

But to make the pay increases, might mean a property tax increase for residents.

“The bottom line is here, the city has to have the money to fund a pay increase and the City of Charleston is very limited under state law regarding our revenue streams – it’s essentially a property tax game when it comes to the City of Charleston and the way we raise revenue,” Appel explains.

Appel says the council member he has talked to agrees on the need for a raise. After the council meeting, Appel posted to his Facebook page, asking people what they thought of the issue and potential solution. He says the constituents he has heard from are expressing their support.

“We’re going to have to have a serious conversation amongst ourselves and our constituents about raising property taxes, which obviously is a big deal, but this is the conversation that I would like to see us shift to, to take that next step and actually raise the revenue necessary to accomplish that goal,” Appel says.

A comparative survey of southeastern cities shows that Charleston pays one of the top salaries in the region, according to a City of Charleston Human Resources report.

When the cost of living is factored in, Charleston’s firefighter salary is still about the middle of the road compared to the cities in the survey.

Charleston firefighter pay is based on tiers, with higher degrees starting at higher base pay. Following base pay, firefighters have a few opportunities to gain raises but eventually cap out.

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