Salisbury Moving Forward With Employee Raises

SALISBURY – Three ordinances were all approved in first reading this week relating to city employee raises, despite one lone voice in the room expressing concerns over sustaining them into the future.
The first ordinance on the table is to approve an amendment of the Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) General Fund budget to adjust the city’s pay plan with new rates assigned to grades and steps. The city’s current budget would be amended to include the new pay plan to be effective on Jan. 11, 2014.
The second ordinance was to approve an amendment to the FY14 General Fund Budget to adjust position grade assignments and the third ordinance is to approve an amendment of the FY14 General Fund, Water Sewer Fund, and parking budgets to appropriate funds to cover increases in employee compensation.
Implementing employee raises and how to fund them have been discussed at several work sessions. 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 that found Salisbury employees well below their neighbors in multiple compensation categories.
The total cost for the pay raise for this fiscal year will be $375,576 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.
This week Councilwoman Terry Cohen, who has been absent for the past few work sessions but has been kept up-to-date of the discussions, said she would preferred to have a much more stable plan in place for how employee raises would be sustained past FY14.
“Without knowing how we are going to sustain this in the following fiscal year, I am very concerned, and it is not because I do not want to give our employees a raise,” Cohen said. “I am just saying when you make a commitment to something you have to sustain you should have a reasonable plan in place.”
Cohen reminded the council former city administrator John Pick warned the city could be facing a $45 million shortfall in its assessable base.
“We are very close to getting our audit and we are talking about this taking place on Jan. 11. Since we have that time available, I think it would be more prudent to get some of those answers before passing this, so we can tell the public exactly what we are going to do,” Cohen said. “If this requires a tax increase, it would be nice to tell them now, and how much.”
Council President Jacob Day explained the plan presented to council by administration funded the increase for the coming years without recommending any sort of tax increase.
“Taxes are not affected by this … and I do not expect that to be part of any budget that we get from administration,” Day said.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell reassured the $232,000 for pay increases in the current fiscal year is simply coming out of surplus.
“The FY15 budget will include the calculation and exchanges of the funding for the increases to keep our employees that have been dedicated and suffered with us through the past five years here and working,” Mitchell said.
Councilwoman Shanie Shields came to Monday evening’s legislative session prepared to vote in favor of all three ordinances.
“Our employees are our most important asset in the city government because without our employees nothing would get done,” Shields said. “We have never talked about a tax increase…we are talking about ways we can find within our budget to add and delete items to give our dedicated employee raises, and that is why I came here tonight to do.”
Mayor Jim Ireton invited Director of Internal Services Keith Cordrey to the podium to explain a few ways the raises could be sustained in FY15.
“Our plan actually created a menu of options, so it doesn’t have to be exclusively these items I am presenting today but this is an example of how simple it could be,” Cordrey said.
According to Cordrey, in FY15 on a sustainable basis the raises would cost the general fund $763,000, and outlined a few available funds.
In FY15, the city will have $600,000 less in debt payments, and the city’s electric consultant has estimated in both FY15 and FY16 there will be about $106,000 in electric reduction. Also an estimated $150,000 produced by speed camera revenue that is dedicated toward public safety purchases frees up other funds, plus $265,000 less in capital projects, which all total much more than the needed amount.
All ordinances were passed on first reading with the council voting 4-0 with Shields, Day, Spies and Mitchell in favor, and Cohen abstaining due to funding concerns expressed.
“We appreciate the hard work that staff put into this, and diligence of Human Resources while trying to achieve what we have wanted to achieve for our team for a long time,” Day said.