CORNELIUS, N.C. - Cornelius has one of the highest average household incomes in the state and continues to grow, but the city's firefighters are only earning $13 an hour.
Cornelius Fire Department staff told Channel 9 that they are underpaid and understaffed.
Deputy Chief Guerry Barbee has asked commissioners for a $2 raise and four new positions.
He said last year, the department responded to nearly 3,000 calls for service. With such a shortage of firefighters, the amount of calls stretches the force thin.
“Thiry percent of the time we had a call, we had a separate call at the same time. So, when you only have two trucks and you have two calls, obviously that leaves a town of 30,000 people unprotected,” Barbee said.
Cornelius Commissioner Mike Miltich said the city is looking for areas where they can cut costs, so they can put more money into the fire department.
The current operating budget is about $1.5 million for the fire department. The chief is asking for $563,000 more for raises and additional staff, which is a 37 percent increase.
Cornelius has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and commissioners say the money just isn't available. However, Miltich said over the last few weeks, the board of commissioners has found enough money to give all the firefighters a $1 raise.
The raise is a step towards helping the Cornelius Fire Department protect the growing city. If those raises are approved, they would take affect in July.
In Cornelius, increasing a Cornelius firefighter's salary by one dollar would amount to an 8 percent pay increase.
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