The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen are in a race against time to get a new budget passed before the property tax collection season gets underway in October.
The city council, again Monday night, failed to adopt a new budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The hang up is over a wage chart for new city employees hired after July 1st, 2010. Should the city adopt a new one or stick to the old one which Mayor Taft Hendrixson says is riddled with pay inequities? Until the aldermen answer those questions, they can't pass a budget and time is of the essence because Trustee Sean Driver has informed city officials that the state wants a budget and tax rate approved before city tax cards are printed.
Mayor Hendrixson Monday night presented a proposed new wage scale ordinance, which he says would address the problem and only affect new employees hired after July 1st, 2010. This new ordinance would replace three other current ordinances which deal with city wage issues.
Under the current wage scale, city employees with less than four years of service receive a regular step increase in pay until they top out on the wage scale plus a traditional yearly cost of living raise. After four years, these employees usually receive an annual cost of living increase, but nothing more.
Mayor Hendrixson said with the proposed new wage scale, city employees hired after July 1st, 2010 would receive starting hourly pay, comparable to the old wage scale, but they would get a fifty cent per hour step increase each year up to four years, effective on the anniversary date of employment, in lieu of cost of living raises. After four years, these same employees may only get a yearly cost of living increase, if the city aldermen choose to give a COLA raise each year. The pay of salaried employees, secretary-treasurer, police chief, city judge, building inspector, and airport manager would be established and approved by the city council each year. In setting wages for employees, the proposed new wage scale ordinance states that "the mayor and board of aldermen may consider the prior work experience or extraordinary ability of such employee. Any employee hired by the city that requires a certification will be given eighteen months to become certified or they will be subject to dismissal."
Alderman Aaron Meeks said he wanted to make it "crystal clear" that this proposed new wage scale would only apply to "new hires". "It does not apply to any present city employee that's working for the city."
Alderman Shawn Jacobs then asked "So a person that would be supposed to get their step increase this year, (will they get it)?"
Mayor Hendrixson answered, "They will get it".
Alderman Jacobs asked, "Will they get their COLA as well"?
Mayor Hendrixson replied, "Well, not under this (new) ordinance, unless you all (aldermen) want to do it."
Mayor Hendrixson continued, "The old wage chart is a little bit inequitable, some people (employees) are going to get 34 cents (increase) and some people are going to get a $1.70 or $1.80 cents (increase). You've got to remember that every dollar you get is over a $2,000 a year increase. If you're making ten dollars per hour, which we don't have many employees making that low but there are some who maybe have just started, fifty cents (per hour) per year at ten dollars per hour is a five percent increase; eleven dollars is a four and a half percent increase; twelve dollars is a 4.2%; thirteen dollars is 3.8%; fourteen dollars is 3.6% and if you're making fifteen dollars it's a 3.3% increase."
Alderman Meeks also pointed out that city employees receive close to eight thousand dollars in benefits which is not reflected in their hourly wage.
Mayor Hendrixson agreed, "Every employee in the City of Smithville that's been here for more than sixty or ninety days is getting over seven thousand dollars worth of free, paid (health, life, and dental) insurance. And whatever they've made from December 1st last year to November 30th this year, they will get a one percent bonus during the first week in December. If they've made $25,000, they'll get a $250 bonus. So with the perks and the health insurance, to my knowledge no where else does that. We pay the total of it and it's going to push $8,000 and it's probably going up in January."
Alderman Jacobs said some city employees have expressed concerns about this proposal. "Well I've had employees call me, concerned. They think that the rug is sort of being pulled out from under them because they've not had any notice that this is changing. But I've also had people tell me, ‘well you all are crazy for giving fifty cent raises to begin with.'"
Jacobs added "My only concern is I think that some of the employees (with less than four years of service) feel like they have been depending on the step raises and the cost of living they've been getting, now here we are later than normal and they're finding out they're not getting it and I certainly understand that."
In response, Mayor Hendrixson said some of these increases have been quite substantial. "For instance, take someone making twelve dollars per hour. The step raise is 4.2% and the COLA is 3.4%. That's almost an eight percent increase."
Alderman Steve White said he believes the new wage scale might discourage some people who want to make working for the city a career. "One of my concerns is the fifty cents (a year) for the four years. Say for example, you had someone start out at ten dollars an hour, twelve bucks an hour is where you're going to be (after four years) other than the cost of living increases. I like the old pay scale a lot better in that respect because it does jump you up a lot faster. I'm afraid that these lower rates will cause a bigger turnover of employees."
"I personally still like the old chart. Of course I think we need to do some of these other things that we've talked about like voting on the cost of living each year, setting salaries yearly, and maybe adding the certification", said White.
Mayor Hendrixson again reminded Alderman White of pay inequities under the old or existing wage scale and gave a specific example. " I won't say who it is but two people under two different categories had starting pay the same, and it was supposed to be the same thing. Well in the second or third year, one (employee) jumped to a $1.40 something cents more than the other one. The same amount of time and starting pay the same."
Alderman Jacobs then asked, "What was there in the scale that caused that aberration and what is going to keep it from happening in this (new) scale? Why haven't our auditors caught it? I'm about to blow a gasket over this. Somebody should have spotted this. This should have been on somebody's radar. That's what auditors do."
Mayor Hendrixson replied, "I can't tell you. I don't know why it happened. This is the scale that's been in effect since 1986 the best I can tell. It was just not equitable for every employee. That's what I was trying to fix."
Alderman Steve White said he still believes the proposed new wage scale could be unfair to city employees with less than four years of service who have not yet topped out on the current pay scale. White suggested that the city stick to the old pay scale for another year and look at changing it next year..
The aldermen later took a vote on passing a new budget with the current pay scale and it was defeated 3-2. Aldermen Steve White and W.J. (Dub) White voted for the budget with the old wage scale but Aldermen Shawn Jacobs, Aaron Meeks, and Cecil Burger voted against it, apparently preferring to address the pay inequity problem now.
Mayor Hendrixson suggested that the aldermen re-convene next week to try again to resolve the matter. So another special meeting will be held Tuesday, September 7th at 7:00 p.m. at city hall.
Several city employees and others attended Monday night's meeting but no one was given an opportunity to speak. The city has a resolution which authorizes citizens to make comments at the beginning of each regular or special called meeting of the board.