RALEIGH (WTVD) --As Raleigh City Council gets set to start work on its 2017-2018 budget, Tuesday's meeting was the public's chance to weigh in on their priorities.
Raleigh police and firefighters were the first in line to speak, telling city councilors, "you made us a promise about pay raises, and we want to make sure you keep it."
In the crush of firefighters and police officers outside City Hall stood Shawn Burns, who after 20 years on the front lines of firefighting in Raleigh, says he can't afford to live in this city.
"We moved to Johnston County in order to afford a residence the same as most people would," Burns said.
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Starting pay for Raleigh police officers compared to other Wake County towns ranks near the bottom.
Monday night, the Raleigh police union representative, Matthew Cooper, told city leaders the pay disparity is causing a staffing crisis -- 86 officers left RPD (many because of retirement) just last year.
"Twenty-five percent of those sworn officers now work for a different law enforcement agency," Cooper told the council.
And he told ABC 11 outside that the staff shortages are taking a toll on morale for the officers who remain.
"It's causing an undue strain on officers and their working conditions," Cooper said. "They have to work harder every single day and they're already working 12-hour shifts."
Last summer, Raleigh Police and Fire picketed outside City Hall, fighting for a higher wage. The city manager pleaded for patience, assuring first responders the city was aware of its antiquated pay scale.
It said a months-long study was underway to address their concerns.
"We're taking them at their word that when they get those numbers back that they're going to do the right thing," said Burns.
"What we're looking for is a significant mid-year adjustment," Cooper said when asked how large a raise he believes his officers are looking for.
"At least (a 10 percent pay increase), I think we deserve that," Cooper said.
The city's pay study isn't expected to wrap up until the spring. City Council is expected to consider those results when it finalizes its new budget in June.
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