BURTON — The legislative committee has put forth a proposal to give the Burton fire chief a series of wage increases boosting him to $78,000 a year by Dec. 31, 2022 if approved by the council on May 3.
After discussion at its April 19 meeting, the three-member committee put forth a proposal which would increase the fire chief to $73,000 annually on July 1, $75,000 a year on Dec. 31 and an increase to $78,000 on Dec. 31, 2022.
That proposal passed 2-1 by the committee, with Councilman Tom Martinbianco being the only dissenting vote.
Wilkinson currently is paid about $70,000 a year and is scheduled for a pay raise to $72,000 in December.
The decision to give the chief $8,000 is salary increases between July of this year and Dec. 31 next year was a point of contention between Councilwoman Tina Conley and Martinbianco.
Conley argued Wilkinson deserved a higher wage increase than what Martinbianco and Vice President Greg Fenner initially proposed – with an increase to $72,000 on July 1, $74,000 on Dec. 31 and $76,000 on Dec. 31, 2022.
“This is where I object,” said Conley, who has argued previously that Fire Chief Kirk Wilkinson deserves a higher wage when some city administrative positions saw increases of $5,000-$15,000 a year. “The fire chief deserves more. He’s only getting a $3,000 raise? Our first responders are very important to our city. I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s my opinion.”
Looking at what is comparable in other communities of a similar size as Burton, Conley said she thinks Wilkinson should be paid more than $80,000 a year.
“When I look at the comparables you can look at Fenton, not Fenton Township, their chief is making $85,000,” she said. “Allen Park, at part-time, makes $65,000. The full-time chief in Bay City, with a population of 5,000 more people (than Burton) is making $79,000. I think we need to give him a little more raise than what you’re offering him.”
Conley said Wilkinson is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has to manage the firefighters and manages the department’s three fire stations. She said he goes above and beyond; representing the city at events and on committees throughout Genesee County.
“Maybe that’s not big to you, but I talked to a lot of fire chiefs and a lot of people have respect for our fire chief,” said Conley. “He’s been here for 25 years, he’s worked under all the other fire chiefs, I believe it’s his turn and I believe he does a lot for our city.
“Before he was fire chief, he was down on the bottom of the totem pole and he worked his way up. I think our fire chief has done a lot for us.”
Martinbianco disagreed that the wage increase needed to be that high, saying he’d support the increase of $72,000 on July 1, $74,000 on Dec. 31 and $76,000 on July 1, 2023.
“All of which fits within the fiscal program of the five-year plan,” said Martinbianco. “I’m looking at the same comparables as you are, but I don’t know how many people he actually manages, how many people he doesn’t manage, I don’t know what his day-to-day responsibilities are, do you?”
Martinbianco said while he appreciated Conley’s opinion, he said she needed to keep personalities and emotions out of it.
“Yes, he’s been awesome, yes, our fire department no one can compare to the job they do,” he said. “But it’s not about the personality it’s about what is a good range.”
Initially, Fenner and Martinbianco prepared to put forward the series of raises that would have taken Wilkinson to $76,000 a year by Dec. 31, 2022, but Conley urged both councilmen to support her plan to take the chief to $78,000 by the same date.
Fenner asked Conley to take into consideration the fact Burton also has a full-time paid assistant fire chief who makes $60,000 a year.
“I don’t know how much that takes the load off the chief,” said Fenner, who added the raise proposed by him and Martinbianco puts Wilkinson above the average salary in 16 different communities. “He’ll reach that average with the July raise and go above it with the next two raises.”
Conley persisted about the raise, saying it’s only $2,000 more a year than the raises Fenner and Martinbianco were suggesting.
When Fenner prepared to make the motion, he asked if Conley would support the $76,000 wage and she said she did not think her opinion mattered.
“It doesn’t matter what I think because you guys have already decided,” she said. “I think he deserves more, but that’s my opinion. I’d like to see them go up a little more than $76,000. But you guys have got it figured out and I don’t think it matters what I say.”
Mayor Duane Haskins also spoke in support of Conley’s proposal, saying he agreed with her that Wilkinson goes above and beyond the call of duty in his role as fire chief.
Fenner agreed to compromise and supported Conley’s suggestion, but Martinbianco said he would not.
“That ain’t happening,” Martinbianco said. “I guess I won’t compromise. Her last gesture is way out of the ballpark.”
In the end, Conley’s proposal passed by a 2-1 vote.
The legislative committee sent the proposal to the city council, who will hear it and decide on the wage increase at its May 3 regular meeting.
The committee also approved a raise to $71,000 on July 1, $73,000 on Dec. 31, and $75,000 on Dec. 31, 2022 to $75,000 for the city treasurer. That proposed wage increase was later approved by the council.