SYRACUSE -- The political rancor that has divided this community will take its toll on city staff, Mayor Jamie Nagle predicts.
"I do believe that people will leave and I believe that a good number are actively looking to leave. They want to work in a place where they feel appreciated for their efforts," Nagle said following a recent city council meeting where a budget debate brought the salaries and compensation for city firefighters and police officers into the limelight.
Police Chief Brian Wallace, who is retiring at the end of this year, found himself having to defend his budget, which calls for small raises for some officers who have been without a raise for more than five years. The loss of one officer, plus his retirement, frees up some funding within the department, which Wallace has targeted for a group of officers who he points out have furthered their education and experience, without any additional compensation. He said the raises don't add any costs to the budget.
The final budget plan for the 2012-2013 fiscal year was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Karianne Lisonbee voting against because she didn't feel it was conservative enough.
It was Lisonbee's questions on compensation which seemed to ignite the latest sparks. She noted that even without salary increases, officers do get a pension, which not everyone in the private sector receives.
Even though she maintains she supports more pay for police officers, Lisonbee's questions left some people with ruffled feathers, including Nagle who feels like staff's contributions are not valued by the city council.
In public, Wallace appears to be unfazed by some of the political turmoil. But his wife went to social media to suggest otherwise.
On a Facebook page called Syracuse Citizens for Awareness and Accountability, she said the discussion during the budget debate left her feeling sick.
"I have watched and listened for the last 19 years the different issues the city has tackled. The good news is the council passed the budget by a 4 to 1 vote. However, I was saddened by the discussion concerning the police wages. Brian is very passionate about his 'family' in blue. He has watch this group of professionals struggle to support their families. Five years ago when budgets became tight everyone made cuts. These same officers five almost six years later are making less money and with harder working conditions," Wendy Wallace wrote.
Wallace said her husband sometimes has difficultly sleeping because he knows his officers are looking for jobs in other communities because of the lack of compensation.
Nagle maintains she has tried her best to turn the city's financial picture around, and to make sure staff is properly appreciated.
"I will never apologize for believing that employees should be fairly compensated and are deserving of recognition and reward for their efforts, regardless of whether they are public or private sector employees. I know it weighs very heavy on Chief Wallace and Chief (Eric) Froerer that their employees who risk their lives everyday are going on five years without a pay raise. I am deeply concerned about our ability to attract and retain good employees with this current council environment," Nagle said.