Surplus Might Fund Salisbury Employee Raises

SALISBURY — City employees in Salisbury will likely be getting a raise to be paid for directly out of the city’s surplus, as the three members of the council in attendance at Monday’s work session unanimously agreed to advance the idea to their next legislative session.
The City Council also further discussed pay raises for elected officials and whether it would be easier to spread them out regularly as opposed to the current large but occasional leap.
There has been more or less universal agreement on the council that city employees are in need of a raise, especially following the recent results of a pay study by Evergreen Solutions, LLC that found Salisbury employees well below their neighbors in multiple compensation categories. Where the money will come from for that citywide pay bump, though, has been a matter of debate. Initially, the administration proposed new revenue additions like taking over fire inspections in Salisbury from Wicomico County as well as some cost deferrals on projects like the Riverwalk renovation.
But the pay increase has now gone through several work sessions and was at a point this week where Acting City Administrator Tom Stevenson feared that it ran the risk of stalling.
“It matters not to me, not really, how we fund this but that we find a way to get it done,” he told the council.
Stevenson reminded the council members that Evergreen found a major dearth of compensation between certain Salisbury positions when compared to the market average.
“The city spent over $40,000 to have this pay study conducted and the results came back to us that [many employees] are undercompensated,” said Stevenson.
Even more than just undercompensated, he asserted that many employees have to work multiple jobs because employment with Salisbury is not offering a strong enough salary for them to exist on.
“We have people who work for this city who do not make a living wage,” Stevenson said.
Employees did see a slight pay bump of 2 percent this past fiscal year but had not been given a raise for the five years prior to that.
“One thing that the employees need to understand is how what they do has purpose and I think we’ve missed the opportunity to communicate that to our staff,” said Stevenson.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell didn’t dispute Stevenson’s points and said she had deep concerns about the stories she has heard from personnel.
“It sickens me when I hear about someone from public works working three jobs,” she said, adding that she would be ready to take the money for an employee pay raise directly out of surplus to fund the first part of the action.
However, she also emphasized to Stevenson that the reason the council has explored other funding options besides directly from the surplus is because they want to be able to explain their actions to constituents. It was valid to consider paying for the raises with new revenue or potential savings through deferrals, she said. But Mitchell reiterated her support to use the surplus at this point.
Council President Jake Day was ready as well and praised Stevenson on his passion advocating for employees. The total cost for the pay raise for this fiscal year will be $375,576.33 with roughly $232,000 attributed to the general fund, $141,341 to water and sewer and the remaining approximately $2,100 to the parking fund.
That will cover the initial stage in the planned employee pay increase which will fix compression issues and tweak step increases. If the council wishes to follow Evergreen’s suggestions and bring city employees more in line with what their market value is for other municipalities and the private sector, that decision will be part of the budget process for next year.
Day, Mitchell and Councilman Tim Spies voted unanimously to move an ordinance approving the amendment to the city budget to increase employee pay to their upcoming legislative session next week.
The council also briefly discussed the status of a pay raise for elected officials. The current recommendation, passed down last year by an evaluation committee, is for a 12-percent raise for the mayor and council. The number seems high, said Salary Review Committee Chair Lauren Hill on multiple occasions, but is justified in that it will be the first increase since 2007.
At a work session earlier this month, Mitchell inquired about the possibility of setting a steady pay rate increase as opposed to performing a study every so many years and accepting a large pay spike.
City Attorney Mark Tilghman was not sure of the legality of a regular salary increase as it might technically create a conflict of interest with a sitting council giving itself a raise.
However, he returned to the council this week with the information that other communities, such as Montgomery County, have tried similar approaches like tying elected officials pay to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Whether that would be ideal in Salisbury, however, he could not say.
The council took no action on the matter but they are expected to discuss it again at their next work session in early-November.