Petal police, fire get new hires, some pay raises

By HASKEL BURNS,

A couple of weeks ago, Petal Police Chief Matthew Hiatt approached the Petal Board of Aldermen about the possibility of pay raises – particularly for Petal Police Department, but also for Petal Fire Department and other city employees.

Although it may take quite a while to get those pay scales to Hiatt’s wishes, the Petal Board of Aldermen took a small start Tuesday by approving three new police officers – two full-time and one part-time – and one new firefighter, along with several promotions and raises throughout the department. The measure was approved 6-0, with Ward 2 Alderman Steve Stringer absent from the meeting.

“We’ve had two vacancies in the police department for several months, and we’ve held off on hiring to try to get through that budget year and save money,” Mayor Hal Marx said. “Now with the new budget, those positions were budgeted for, so Chief (Matthew) Hiatt did interviews and selected those two (full-time) officers to fill those vacancies.

“So now we’re back at full staff; when those guys get on patrol, we’ll be a full staff again.”

The new hires and pay increases are as follows:

• Hiring David Ward as a full-time 1st Class Patrol Officer at PPD at a rate of $17.12 per hour, effective Nov. 6.

• Hiring Hunter McPhail full-time at PFD at a rate of $10.15 per hour pending drug screen and physical results.

• Hiring Douglas Shepherd as a full-time 1st Class Patrol Officer at PPD at a rate of $17.12 per hour, effective Oct. 23.

• Increasing the rate of pay for Mark Hicks (part-time police) to $14 per hour, effective Oct. 23.

• Increasing the rate of pay for part-time dispatchers in the police department to $11 per hour, effective Oct. 23.

• Increasing the rate of pay for part-time patrol officers in PPD to $13 per hour, effective Oct. 23.

• Hiring Lonnie Cole Morrow as a part-time patrol officer in PPD, effective Oct. 16.

• Promoting Will Lewis to captain in PFD.

“We’ve been working with understaffed patrol units for the past few months, which means that we’ve either had to have part-time officers come in, or we’ve just been short a man,” Marx said. “We usually have four officers on any shift for patrol, and we’ve been running three on a couple of those shifts, and that’s just not good for safety.

“You want as many officers as you can to be on duty in case something happens. So having those officers means we’re back to full shift on all of our shifts, and that means better safety for our officers, and better response for people who need the police to be there. So it’ll be better all around.”

Hiatt said the funding for the hiring and pay increases are possible because of flexible line items in the budget.

“There’s about $10,000 in each line item, and in this past fiscal year we spent about $6,200,” he said. “So if I can just stay in the means of that line item, it should work out.

“It’s one line item for each group – part-time dispatchers is one line item, and officers is another – so I can monitor that and if it seems it needs to be adjusted, we can do that.”

Fire Chief Joe Hendry said his department will likely need two more hires to come to full staff.

“One for sure, and we’re probably going to have another one in a couple of weeks,” he said.