Mitchell council discusses raise for workersCity leaders debate 3 percent increase, no action taken at first budget hearing.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A pay increase for Mitchell city employees was the major topic during the first of three city budget hearings Monday night at City Hall. Mayor Ken Tracy pointed out that city employees did not get a pay increase in 2010, received a 1.5 percent pay hike in 2011 and 2 percent in 2012. That averaged out to slightly more than 1 percent per year.
No figure has been set for an offer this year, but a 3 percent pay hike was discussed. Negotiations are in the early stages.
Tracy said city workers are loyal and have done fine work. Councilman Mel Olson said a 3 percent boost seems high to him, since it was greater than the Social Security increase for senior citizens.
“I don’t think it’s the right number,” Olson said. “I don’t think 3 percent is right. I think it’s less than that.”
City Attorney Carl Koch pointed out that the 3 percent figure is a “working number,” and not necessarily what the city will offer its employees.
“The first negotiation is a feelingout process, more or less,” Koch said.
Councilman Randy Doescher agreed.
“We have a long way to go,” Doescher said. “We’re at step one.”
The council also went into executive session to discuss contract negotiations with the three unions that represent city employees. They represent police, fire and all other workers.
Koch, Human Resources Director Billie Kelly and Aberdeen labor lawyer Dennis Maloney, who is routinely hired by the city for labor negotiations, are meeting today.
“This is not an adversarial relationship,” Kelly said of the city’s talks with its unions.
She said the police and fire unions are seeking another twoyear deal, while the Association of Federal, State, City and Municipal Employees union that represents other city workers is seeking a oneyear contract.
Kelly said it’s important to reach a deal before the budget process is completed, since the vast majority of the city’s nearly $30 million budget is used to pay wages and benefits for employees.
The council was asked about creating new positions or altering the job description, title and pay for some staffers.
It considered, but made no decision, on hiring a full-time Palace Transit driver. The city has been advertising for part-time drivers for several months, Kelly said, and no one has applied.
“The thinking is that adding another full-time position might change that,” she said.
Kelly said the position would be paid for with money budgeted for the part-time positions and state grant dollars and would not cost the city any additional money right now.
When asked by Olson, she said there is no guarantee the money will continue forever.
Passenger numbers are up from last year, said Jo Hanson, the interim director of senior services, who oversees Palace Transit.
Council President Jeff Smith said the city should “drill down a little bit into the numbers” and have the new senior services director offer more insight before a decision is made.
Tracy fired previous director Brenda Paradis in July and said last week the city is close to hiring a department head. Hanson, who has been in charge of Palace Transit, has said she is not a candidate for the job.
The council was told an effort to change a Public Safety Department worker to a traffic supervisor, which would require that person to leave the union, is on hold. A Department of Labor law judge will hold a hearing this fall to make that decision.
The council approved a proposal to change another Public Safety employee to the title traffic assistant.
The job will entail new responsibility and new pay, but the employee will remain in the union.
A request from Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek to examine the tasks and pay of two employees was shelved, but will lead to an examination of a pay scale adopted in 2002 and how city secretaries and clerks are paid.
Sales taxes up
Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson said the city is set to garner $23.3 million in total revenue for the general fund, and sales-tax receipts are up.
She said the city may break $5 million for each percent of the 2 percent sales tax collections for the first time ever. Olson asked if that is a fair figure to count on at this point in the year.
“I believe it’s still a conservative estimate,” Wilson said.
She said the additional 1 percent sales tax on prepared food, occupied hotel rooms and alcoholic beverages may also set a record, since it is up 7.99 percent so far in 2012.
The council reviewed department requests for capital expenditures.
Among the big-ticket items are $841,000 for a lift station on Norway Avenue, $500,000 for a citywide street overlay project, $400,000 for a new Fire Division ladder truck, $350,000 for water meters, $165,000 for a new dump truck for the Public Works Department, $100,000 toward a satellite fire station by Lake Mitchell, $65,000 for new library books and $35,000 for an EKG monitor/defibrillator.
A few smaller requests were withdrawn, but most seemed to have the council’s approval, at least so far.
Some members of the council questioned some of the requests, including asking why some items were listed where they were placed. Staff members explained how the process works, including placing information technology equipment under that area and not by individual departments.
Tracy said each department has a four- or five-year plan for major projects and purchases are made in a sensible manner.
“We oftentimes get accused of not having a plan,” he said. “We are planning ahead.”
The council will hold a second round of budget hearings at 5:30 p.m. today at City Hall Council Chambers and a third and final session at 5:30 p.m. Monday before the regularly scheduled council meeting.
The final city budget will get a pair of public hearings, one during each of the council’s September meetings. Adoption is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Councilman Greg McCurry was absent Monday.