City employees get 2.5% bump in pay

Warren City Council has laid a budget on the table and set the date for a budget public hearing.

During a Monday evening meeting, council addressed pay increases and infrastructure in addition to approving a budget for public inspection that does not contain any tax increases.

On pay increases, City Manager Nancy Freenock said that city employees are slated to receive a 2.5 percent increase across the board.

Councilman Sam Harvey proposed a 1.5 percent increase for all non-unionized workers with an additional $7,500 to be distributed for raises at the discretion of the city manager. He said that the discretion would permit the city to “make salaries in line with performance.”

Mayor Mark Phillips asked how many employees this would affect. Seventeen of the city’s 69 employees are non-unionized. Challenging Harvey’s idea, he questioned the fairness of such a policy. Citing the $22,200 in donations authorized to entities such as the Humane Society and Historical Society, Phillips said “we did that with such swiftness that it was mind-boggling. I just don’t see the sound business basis for not having our 2.5 percent (increase) across the board.”

With employee health care contribution numbers for next year still up in the air, Council Vice-president Maurice Cashman said, “I think until we see the health care scenario, can we be making a judgment here?”

In defending his motion, Harvey said that people who don’t collectively bargain should be individually bargaining. He said if employees always receive a 2.5 percent increase, they will eventually be paid more than the market will bear. “People don’t have a right to their job and you don’t have a right to their labor,” he said. “They are free to leave.”

Freenock said that if an employee came and asked for a raise, and there was money available in the same department, she acknowledged that she would have the authority to grant a raise. But, without knowing the entire line item for the year, “I’m very skiddish,” she said. “That’s not something that I would feel comfortable doing on (my) own.”

Cashman suggested that if an employee comes in and asks for a raise that individual should be shown the help wanted ads.

Harvey asked why that approach cannot be taken with unionized employees.

Cashman noted that those bargaining entities have contracts with the city.

Ultimately, council voted to approve the 2.5 percent raise and included the $7,500 in discretionary salary funding. To be clear, action taken during this meeting simply approves the budget for public inspection, not final approval.

Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said that the discretionary salary money represents a “paradigm shift for how we do things” and suggested that Freenock develop a mechanism or program for how those dollars would be allocated.

Regarding infrastructure, Ferguson said, “this budget does not really address that issue.”

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said that the city reviews the status of all city street every year and identifies, on a 1-5 scale, which are in need of repair. He said to pave the worst, all of the 1s and 2s, would cost approximately $800,000.

That is a substantial jump from the $70,000 in paving work done this year and the approximately $330,000 done in 2012.

“My fear is… that we’re remiss if we don’t try to start addressing this issue,” said Ferguson, proposing a two mil tax increase to specifically be allocated for paving.

The 2014 budget includes $379,500 in capital expenditures, mostly replacing vehicles in the fleet of the DPW department. While council had settled on paying for those items outright, Harvey proposed that those items be financed, approximately $250,000 of the $379,500 total, with the funding on hand to then be allocated to paving. Harvey’s idea was approved unanimously.

Council then scheduled a budget public hearing date for Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. Council will also meet in special meeting next Monday at 5:30.