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city council map 2021 final

Charleston City Council on Monday approved a new ward map for the city.

The Charleston City Council on Monday approved a $1 per hour, across-the-board raise for the city’s police officers. Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said in a news release that the pay increase is one of several steps the city has taken to help competitively recruit and retain officers.

The police department has 161 officers, down 12 from a full staff of 173, Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt said. Recruiting officers is a problem nationwide, he added.

Last year, several officers hit their 20-year mark and are retiring, Hunt said. Turnout was low at a recent test for people interested in becoming Charleston officers, he said.

The raise will help bring the department’s pay closer in line with the higher pay from the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“I believe we are at a point where we can be stable, as long as we can get our Police Academy spots filled and get folks in the door,” Hunt said. “Mayor Goodwin has asked us for a robust recruitment plan, so we’re putting our heads together to get some outside-of-the-box thinking ideas on that, just to go beyond your typical newspaper ads and other things, because we can’t get police officers if folks don’t show up and take our test.”

Funding for the $1-per-hour raise will be redirected from excess in the city’s legacy pension fund, City Manager Jonathan Storage said.

“Essentially, what that means is that we budgeted what the city’s contribution will be to the legacy fund back in March, prior to the actuarial report coming out this October,” Storage said. “The actuarial report will allow for a larger contribution to the fund from the insurance premium tax, meaning that we can offset that increase with lower employer contribution. So, rather than that going into the unassigned fund balance, we’re going to apply it to the police department’s wage and benefits category.”

The council rejected a proposed amendment from members Shannon Snodgrass, Adam Knauff, Brady Campbell and Courtney Persinger that would have increased the pay raise to $3.

Councilman and Finance Committee chairman Joe Jenkins said the pension fund had enough surplus to cover the $265,982 needed for the $1 pay raise through the end of the budget year but would not have covered the nearly $800,000 needed to cover a $3-per-hour pay increase.

Snodgrass suggested taking the money from another account.

“If this group up there can’t tell us where the money is, then we have a bigger problem in the city,” Snodgrass said. “We have a user fee. We have the stabilization fund that has over $20 million in it. We have the American Rescue Plan. There’s money in that already. There’s a way that we can do that, and then we can spend the next five months working on it as we increase that for the budget as we move forward.”

Jenkins said it’s incumbent on City Council members to determine which accounts to shift funds from.

Between the pay raise approved Monday and an across-the-board pay raise for city workers in July 2020, the average annual pay for police officers has increased by $4,000 over the past 16 months, according to the city.

Council members also approved changing the pay grade for street department drivers, to fix a starting pay disparity between those drivers and refuse drivers. Storage said the disparity was created when the city reduced the pay for street department drivers after a 2015-16 compensation study.

“That deviation year over year has caused a lot of strain on recruitment and retention for the street department,” Storage said. The jobs are similar and require the same licensure. Storage said city officials could not find a reason for the pay difference between the two jobs.

To fix the disparity, street department drivers’ starting pay will increase from $11.45 per hour to $12.50, which is what refuse drivers start at, Storage said.

Also Monday, after agreeing to some amendments, council members approved the city’s new ward map.

City attorney Kevin Baker said the Kanawha County Clerk’s Office requested a handful of amendments to a map previously approved by the council’s Planning, Streets and Traffic Committee, to keep precincts in line with the House of Delegates and Senate districts. The council approved all but one of the requested amendments.

The approved map has nine wards on the south side of the Kanawha River and 11 wards on the north side.

“They all 20 have about the same number of people and they’re within the constitutional standards for equal population,” Baker said. “They make minor adjustments to where the ward lines are right now.”

Council members also approved a resolution from Councilwoman Jennifer Pharr to create a select committee to study the size and election of the City Council.

Pharr had originally proposed reducing the size of the council from its current 20 wards and 26 members to 10 wards and fewer at-large members as the city redrew its ward map in line with population from the 2020 census. At last week’s Planning, Streets and Traffic Committee meeting, she instead proposed a select committee to better research the idea.

“I think that, the more that we can have discussion about it and input from other people and really to get concrete facts and evidence in front of us and research, I think it’s going to help us to make a more informed decision,” Pharr said Monday. “And that’s what I ultimately want.”

Fourteen council members and Goodwin voted for the select committee. Eleven members — Brent Burton, Jeanine Faegre, Bobby Haas, Joe Jenkins, Pat Jones, Bruce King, Adam Knauff, Chuck Overstreet, Courtney Persinger, Chad Robinson and Shannon Snodgrass, voted against the committee.

At 26 members, and with a population that has continued to decline, Charleston has a larger city council than many of the nation’s most populated cities.

The committee also will look into attendance requirements, compensation and duties of council members, and the possibility of having nonpartisan elections and setting term limits.

The committee will be required to report back to the council with its findings and recommendations on or before Dec. 31, 2023.

Lori Kersey covers the city and county. She can be reached at 304-348-1240 or lori.kersey@hdmediallc.com. Follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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