Long Beach hasn't pumped a payraise into employee paychecks since October 2000. And that's made it tough on firemen like Fritz Rheinfrank. "At times it's very difficult financially," he said. "But like Jake mentioned, it's in everybody's blood. They love the job. That's why they're here."
Jake is Jake Heinrichs. He's a retired Seabee who now fights fires with the Long Beach Fire Department. "I like what I do," Heinrichs said. "I'm going to do it for whatever they'll give me."
For the last four years, Long Beach aldermen doused payraise talk, because the city's budget was pretty dry. But this January, 120 city employees should be showered with a $100 a month pay increase. Allen Holder is Long Beach's acting mayor. "That's all it is," he said, describing the nine money raise that kicks in when the calendar changes. "But you know what, we were able to do it. And that makes us feel real good. And of course, it makes the employees feel good."
Just ask them.
"I think it's great," Rheinfrank said, while putting the city's ladder truck through its regular inspection. "I think these guys deserve it. They work hard, a lot of hours. And it's about time they get a little bit of recognition for what they do."
The budget being put together by Long Beach aldermen includes the payraise, a million dollars for drainage work, and one million dollars for a new multi-purpose recreation center. And according to the acting mayor, the projects can all be funded without raising Long Beach taxes. "With the belt tightening and good management," Holder said, "and of course everybody knows the things we went through years ago, cutting street lights off and things you had to do to bring this city back around, we were able to do it."
Long Beach aldermen have until mid September to approve a budget with no new taxes, and the employee payraise. They've also included a $16,000 mayor's payraise in the budget. The winner of next week's special election won't be eligible for that raise. It will go to Long Beach mayor elected in 2005.