VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Wednesday in Virginia Beach was the first opportunity for public input for the city’s proposed budget for the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year. Several employees who work in the city spoke out during the meeting, advocating for better pay.
Virginia Beach Police officers, firefighters and public works employees advocated for a step plan, where raises are tied to their years in the department.
“What do we need? Living wages! When do we need it? Now!” the group chanted during a rally held before the budget meeting.
"I’ve been with the city for over nine years now, and the pay is not what it should be for us, so tonight we’re out here. We’ve been working for a long time trying to get living wages," Eric Ellerbe, a maintenance worker for the city, said.
Ellerbe says he gets paid below $15 an hour.
"I hope the city will take the recommendation for a step pay plan that recognizes the years of service," Ellerbe said before city council members.
A group of employees who work in the developmental services department for the city are also advocating for higher wages.
"We’re asking for a minimum of wage of $15. They are toying with the idea of it, but they’re still discussing the $12 [minimum wage], which is the federal rate, and that is just not acceptable," Tracie Smigel said.
The group of workers say their pay doesn’t match up to the cost of living in the city.
"We’re not getting paid enough. Many of us... I can’t even afford to live in the city in which I work because we’re underpaid. I been with the city for10 years. We’re losing staff because we’re not getting the pay. We got people living in Portsmouth and North Carolina and Suffolk because of the cost of living," Patricia Thevert said.
The police department is currently down 91 officers. The president of the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association, Brian Luciano, says a step plan will help with recruiting and retention efforts.
"Our profession has been much maligned over the years, and because of that we’ve suffered greatly in retention and recruitment area.Because of that, we have to get creative and how we pay our officers," Luciano said.
The fire department also advocating for a step plan.
"It gives you some sense of predictability of where your wages will be in years to come, and it can be a recruiting and retention tool," Max Gonano, the president of the Virginia Beach Professional Firefighters Association, said.
Gonano says the City of Virginia Beach is behind.
"The City of Chesapeake just implemented a step plan for their public safety. That moved them pretty well ahead of where we are now. Also, the City of Suffolk has increased their compensation with a step plan with their compensation, so this is going to bring us up to pace with everyone else," Gonano said.
Wednesday's budget meeting was the first of two public hearings where council members will hear feedback from the community on where funding should go. The next public hearing is April 26.
There is also a special formal session scheduled May 10 to adopt the budget, which city council says will be adopted by May 15.