Charleston proposing major cost of living adjustments for employees in 2023 budget

The city of Charleston is proposing up to 13% cost-of-living increases for city employees in the 2023 budget.
Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 2:36 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The city of Charleston is proposing up to 13% cost-of-living increases for city employees in the 2023 budget.

Firefighters in Charleston have been asking the city for a pay increase, even demonstrating at city hall, for nearly a year. John Baker with the Charleston Association of Firefighters Local 61 said they are grateful the measures are going before the Charleston City Council.

“We’re thankful to have a seat at the table and to be able to have that open line of communication to allow us to not only have a stronger fire department but like I said to have a stronger city of Charleston,” Baker said.

The budget committee is recommending a base nine percent increase on all city employee pay, raising the minimum wage to $17. They also recommend an additional adjustment to police officers and firefighters’ pay plans by 3% and all other city employees’ pay plans by 4.33%.

Mayor John Tecklenburg admitted the city did not make any pay adjustments for cost-of-living in 2020. He said it is important to invest as much as they can to remedy the wages in a competitive market.

“Our goal was to make every available penny to go towards employee compensation that we possibly could,” Tecklenburg said. “And that’s to address the change in the labor market since COVID and honestly just to catch up for a couple years ago when we couldn’t do a cost-of-living increase. We were falling behind compared to some other jurisdictions and we wanted to catch up on that.”

The total increase the committee talked about in the recommendation, with the cost-of-living adjustment, would be 12% for fire and police, and 13.33% for all other city employees.

Baker said this is a huge help and a step in the right direction.

“This is going to help with basic necessities to live or firefighters will be able to potentially cover their rent a little bit easier,” Baker said. “Their mortgage, car payment, preschool, fuel, fuel, food, all of those things that we’ve seen go up in price, they’re going to be able to breathe a little bit more.”

Baker was glad to see the city and firefighters work together to reach their needs and goals. He thanked many city council members for being open to hearing the workers and creating a plan of action.

“I truly do believe that our push to educate the council and mayor on the issues within our pay structure has allowed us not only to help the police department, but all the non-sworn employees as well to have a much-needed increase in their salaries,” Baker said. “And that’s something that we can be proud of.”

As of Oct. 26, the city of Charleston has 23 fire department openings. A recruit class of 14 firefighters will graduate from the academy and enter the force on Friday. With the increases, Charleston will continue to be the second highest-paying city for firefighters in South Carolina, only behind Greenville.

“Trying to put our city at the top of the list in South Carolina is a reasonable goal,” Councilman Ross Appel said in the budget meeting.

Baker said he will always believe his job is one of the best in the world and is looking forward to building a strong and enduring department in Charleston.

“There’s a name on the top of their jackets, their bunker coats that they wear to protect themselves from fire and other hazards,” Baker said. “And it says Charleston and it’s our job to represent them in the city of Charleston with the utmost respect. We’re forming such a strong relationship with our city council and mayor to make Charleston fire department a place where you can come you can come the best firefighter in the nation.”

The council will continue discussing the 2023 budget at an upcoming Tuesday meeting.