At times during this week’s Statesboro City Council meeting, it appeared that some or all of the city’s 250-plus employees might not get a proposed 2.5 percent raise.
A study of the city’s pay scale by an outside organization sounded like a possibility.
But in the end, the raise was approved, along with the rest of the fiscal 2015 budget. Councilman Will Britt, who voiced objections for the longest, wound up making the motion to accept a set of budget assumptions that included the full raise.
After the meeting, Britt said he remains concerned about growth in the cost and size of Statesboro’s government.
“We’ve gone from an $8 million payroll to a $12 million payroll very quickly,” he said.
His other point had been that the raise will not fix inequities in the pay scale. But Britt added that he wanted to reward staff members for enabling the city to balance its budget, and he believes employees are underpaid.
In a total budget that exceeds $50 million, fiscal year 2015 city salaries and wages, not including overtime, will be a little more than $11 million, according to information City Manager Frank Parker gave the council. The budget adds six full-time employees.
The 2.5 percent raise will cost about $275,000, again not counting overtime pay or Social Security tax. Parker first recommended the raise at the budget retreat, a daylong meeting at City Hall in April. Structured as one step on the pay scale for all employees, the raise is, to that extent, a return to the step raises in the city’s pay plan, last updated in 2007 by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
During the sluggish economy of the past five years, the council froze regularly scheduled raises but granted some 1 percent raises and bonuses. Raises during those five years totaled 2 percent for salaried employees and 3 percent for hourly wage employees, Parker said. That does not include one-time bonuses, on which Britt said the city has spent about $350,000.
In part, this week’s discussion echoed the April retreat. Some council members had then expressed a preference for a 1 percent raise and another bonus.
“I’m a big fan of the bonuses instead of having raises, because the bonus doesn’t affect you later on,” Britt said Tuesday.
Department heads, such as Water and Wastewater Director Wayne Johnson and Public Safety Director Wendell Turner, again urged council members to approve the raise. Bonuses do not count toward retirement pay, and Johnson argued that employees cannot budget for their families’ needs on bonuses.
The first alternative Britt suggested Tuesday was not a bonus, but a 2.5 percent raise for hourly wage employees and a 1 percent raise for salaried employees.
As Parker pointed out, the city’s pay scale does not necessarily favor its salaried supervisors.
“A number of employees make more than their supervisor … not even injecting overtime into the equation,” he said.
This also happens at businesses when recently hired supervisors are assigned to workers who have moved up the pay scale through years of experience. It’s not always a problem.
But the city’s pay plan has developed some real issues, Turner said. He gave the example of police sergeants earning nearly as much as lieutenants and reluctant to step up to the higher rank and more hours.
Unlike those with hourly wages, the city’s salaried employees are ineligible for overtime pay.
“I think overall the problem is the pay plan itself, and it really needs to be looked at and analyzed,” Turner said.
Still, he cautioned that the city could not afford a new pay study and its implementation.
A study by the Carl Vinson Institute could cost about $30,000 as an initial fee, and much more to implement, city Human Resources Director Jeff Grant said. Judging from the experience of similar-size cities, a study would increase Statesboro’s annual payroll by more than $1 million, Parker said.
The idea of inequity in the pay plan remained entangled with the raise through a colorful hour-long discussion. Flourishes included Johnson and Turner vowing that they would gladly go without a raise to get one for employees, and Britt repeatedly referring to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government as “the Karl Marx Institute” as he asserted that a study would inevitably judge the city’s salaries too low.
Mayor Jan Moore attempted to untangle the two discussions.
“I think it ought to be completely clear that, in giving a raise, it’s because we think the employees need a raise, not because it’s going to fix anything,” she said.
Meanwhile, Grant told the council that denying the raise this late would be “a morale killer.”
After speaking for the raise but warning that it could lead to deeper cutbacks if the economy sours, Councilman Travis Chance seconded Britt’s motion on the budget assumptions. It passed 4-0, with John Riggs absent.
A separate motion approving the entire budget also passed unanimously. Balanced as presented, it contains $13.7 million in the general fund and will not increase taxes.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.