Aldermen nix Miguel’s proposal for cost-of-living pay hike

By Kari Williams

Crestwood Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel’s attempt give city employee’s a $450 cost-of-living increase recently was nixed by the Board of Aldermen.

The board voted 5-3 against instructing City Administrator Mark Sime, in coordination with Finance Office Greg Kremer, to issue the across-the-board increase.

The $450 included benefits and would have cost roughly $47,000, according to Miguel. A roughly $41,000 savings from maintaining current utility rates and roughly $28,000 saved through the unfilled director of public works and fire captain positions would have funded the raises.

“The funds are available,” Miguel said at the board’s Feb. 26 meeting. “It seems to me it’s just a question of whether the board has the desire and feel(s) that the employees are … deserving of a $450 across the board increase.”

Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen said he supports the concept of cost-of-living increases and has “tremendous empathy” for city employees, but would prefer to postpone a decision until the board receives the city’s quarterly financial report.

“If we end up down 10 percent, then I’m not sure that we’re really meeting our current budget with what we have,” Tennessen said, “and I think it’s unrealistic to do anything different.”

However, Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild said, citing the city’s code, it is the city administrator’s duty to prepare and submit a pay plan for board approval.

“(That) doesn’t mean we can’t do it,” Duchild said, “but if we did it this way, usually it’s done in the guise of looking at the budget, which is what we did. Ways and Means took a look at this issue last fall.”

The board approved a 1-percent merit-based pay increase, which originated with the Ways and Means committee, within the 2013 budget.

Duchild said he would not be in favor of a cost-of-living increase, but rather a merit-based raise if Sime believed it was something the city could handle through a pay plan.

“We all don’t know who deserves an extra 1 percent, who may not deserve an extra 1 percent,” Duchild said. “We don’t know that so to just say, ‘Give a blanket raise to everybody just because cost of living,’ I just think it’s not the right time and inappropriate …”

Mayor Jeff Schlink said a group in the city had been investigating a pay plan but “didn’t make it all the way through.”

“We had a transition with (our) city administrator, but we’ve been trying to put (a pay plan) in place,” Schlink said. “To me that’s a bigger picture, that’s a comprehensive look. A pay plan doesn’t mean salary. A pay plan looks at all the benefits, looks at the entire package …”

But the challenge with creating a pay plan, according to Schlink, is the lack of new revenue sources while existing sources “continue to decline.”

“In a situation like that it’s challenging to move forward with a pay plan because you don’t have a pay plan that you can fund …,” Schlink said. “I would find it difficult as an alderman to vote in favor of a standalone item versus looking at the larger picture. And when you are looking at the larger picture, I think it includes a pay plan, which Mr. Sime and his staff can put together for us.”

Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan said she believes a pay plan is essential and discussing salary increases without taking action is “a terrible way to do business.”

“I don’t think we can go off the grid and just say go ahead and do this because we have $41,000 from utility taxes…,” Duncan said.

Additionally, Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood said he does not believe it is the board’s job to give across-the-board wage increases.

“I think that’s the job of the department heads to determine who amongst their employees deserves whatever piece of the pie that we have in the way of wages …,” Trueblood said. “I think when we do that we take away their power to manage, and we weaken that and we also start interfering with personnel matters directly even though that may not be the intention …”