Harrison, Ark., firefighters to see pay increase due to new state minimum wage law

HARRISON, Ark. -- ​In 2020 Arkansas' minimum wage goes up 75 cents: from $9.25 an hour to $10 an hour.

For firefighters starting out in Harrison, they currently only make $9.40 an hour.

“Roughly 10 members of our department were going to fall below that minimum wage if we didn’t do something," said Harrison Fire Chief Marc Lowery.

So the fire chief with the help of the city's chief financial officer is asking city council members to change that before the new year.

“It actually takes the entire pay grid up. So all the firefighters will see an increase," said Harrison Chief Financial Officer Luke Feighert.

Firefighters' pay is a bit different than a typical city employee's.

"The fire service traditionally works roughly 800 more hours a year than a 40-hour work week person," said Lowery.

They work 24 hour shifts, then are off for 48.

"So they do have additional overtime that is mandatory. We built that into their pay, so they actually get paid about $33,000 starting out," said Feighert.

But because of that pay grid change, it'll cost the city more.

“We’re looking at about $50,000 to $100,000 depending on who may move in or out," said Feighert. "That’s just the total increase though across the board. Typically it wouldn’t be that much on a normal year.”

The minimum wage will go up again to $11 an hour in 2021, which means Harrison will face a very similar challenge next year.

But voters approving a half-cent sales tax for the police and fire department gives the fire chief confidence his crew has the support it needs. Lowery said the city can use their portion of that money for things like this pay increase, and other things like equipment.

“I think anybody on the city council, our mayor and myself as well would pay these guys all we could if we had it. We still have to run the department as well and fix trucks and tires," Lowery said.

Firefighters are the only city employees in Harrison who will be affected by the minimum wage laws.