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Palo Alto Police, Firefighters Get Raises To Deal With High Housing Prices

PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) – Palo Alto has taken the expensive step of offering raises to city workers, including police and firefighters, in an effort to help more employees live closer to where they work.

This salary increase for city workers is the result of two years of negotiations. In that time, the Palo Alto Fire Department says it has lost about 7 percent of its workforce because the pay just isn't good enough.

For years, the fire department has had a hard time keeping up with the city's sky high cost of living.

"People want to have the American dream, they want to own homes, they want to provide for their family," Capt. Ryan Stoddard of the Palo Alto Fire Department told KPIX 5. "In order to do so, you can't live within 10, 20 miles of the city. You have to live further, and further out."

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Salaries for new firefighters start at $85,000 a year. Meanwhile, the median price for a home in Palo Alto in February was just over $2 million, according to Zillow.

On Monday night, the city council voted unanimously to give Palo Alto's nearly 600 employees represented by four unions raises.

Under the negotiations, police officers and firefighters will get a 2.5 percent bump in three installments to bring their pay to the median market standard. Prior to this deal, Palo Alto firefighters were making the lowest among comparable departments in the Bay Area.

"I think we won't lose any more firefighters, and I think it will help us be competitive with recruitment, definitely," Stoddard said. "There's still going to be a challenge with rising housing prices in this area, it's always going to be an issue. But this will definitely help us be competitive."

Palo Alto assistant city manager Suzanne Mason told KPIX 5, "Only about 10 percent of our employees or a little less than 10 percent of our employees live in Palo Alto, so trying to attract a workforce is challenging in those environments."

The unions and the city agree that these pay increases will help. They admit though, it will not change dramatically these workers' ability to buy a home in the city.

As part of this deal, employees will end up paying a bit more for their health insurance and in medical costs in exchange for higher salaries.

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