In order to keep police salaries from reaching a level far above other city employees, Smithville Aldermen Monday night were poised to eliminate three steps of the police department's existing seven step pay scale with passage of the new 2015-16 fiscal year budget. But at the urging of Alderman and City Police Commissioner Jason Murphy, the council decided to postpone any move to revise the scale until next year. As a result, the new city budget was adopted on a 3-2 vote with the seven step wage scale remaining intact for another year. Aldermen Josh Miller and Shawn Jacobs, concerned about other aspects of the budget, voted against the spending plan.
Passage of the budget on second and final reading came during a special meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen covered exclusively by WJLE.
The idea for making changes in the police department wage plan was proposed at a city budget workshop last Tuesday, June 23 to keep pay raises on a more level playing field with other city departments. But since the workshop some police officers began raising concerns. A few of them attended Monday night's meeting.
Under the proposal, any city police officer who had exceeded the fourth step would have received a cost of living raise as provided to all other hourly employees instead of moving to the next scheduled step in the wage scale. For the new fiscal year, the cost of living increase given to all hourly city employees is two percent.
Alderman Murphy said he felt the city was moving too quickly on an issue that needs more study and that the police officers were not given sufficient notice.
"Basically what I think is we should not do anything to the pay (scale) yet but to have a plan to do something by the next budget year. It gives us more time to think about it and it gives the officers notice that their pay in the future will change," said Alderman Murphy.
"I found out about this (proposal to change wage scale) on Friday. My (employment) anniversary date is July 1 so I was expecting a raise really soon. I budgeted my personal affairs that way and found out that wasn't going to happen. My own thought is that if it could be put off just long enough for us make adjustments or to be prepared for it would be helpful," said Officer James Cornelius in addressing the Mayor and Aldermen.
"Everyone in the police department certainly understands and respects the decision making process the council is faced with. We do understand that we're in a position that something has to be done. We do respect and appreciate you working with us as much as you have. I just want to express on behalf of the police department that the intention behind the step (wage) program was to retain officers. I couldn't ask for better guys to work with and I certainly think we are headed in the right direction as far as gaining quality people and that can't be done alone and we do need everyone's help and we appreciate your support," added Captain Steven Leffew.
Janice Plemmons-Jackson, the city's financial advisor proposed freezing the police wage scale at four steps until a study could be done. "We could schedule a workshop for a committee to compare salaries to other places for all the departments and look at what officers in other places are making and see if we are in line with them or see if we need to give them another step and make an evaluation. To me that seems more logical to say that we have a problem coming along so we'll freeze the steps at four and give a two percent raise and then do a study and see if we're in line with where we need to be. Then if we need to in a few months we could pass a budget amendment and go ahead and give another step. But you have money in the bank. You could pay and spend this but the trend is that revenues are flat and have been for many years and expenses continue to climb each year," she said.
While the aldermen agreed with Plemmons-Jackson that a study should be done before next year, they did not take her advice on freezing the police wage scale at the four step level at this time.
Meanwhile, the new city budget also includes pay raises for salaried employees. The new base salary for each is as follows:
City Administrator: $61,500
Chief Financial Officer: $40,000
Police Chief: (OPEN POSITION): $58,000
Fire Chief: $43,500
Airport Manager: $39,000
The city has appropriated $45,000 toward payment to volunteer fire fighters. That's about $10,000 more than last year. The city fire department plans to implement an incentive program to pay volunteers not only for fire calls but to reward them for doing extra duties.
The new city budget totals $8-million 111-thousand 623 dollars.
The property tax rate will remain the same at .6490 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Water and sewer rates will also be unchanged. City water customers will continue to pay $5.00 per thousand gallons of usage. Rates for customers outside the city limits are $7.50 per thousand gallons. City sewer customers will continue to pay $5.00 per thousand gallons plus the flat usage rate of $3.62.
The rate the city charges the DeKalb Utility District will remain at $2.67 per thousand gallons.
Capital outlay projects include:
*New sanitation truck and trash containers- $350,000
*New extrication "Jaws of Life" equipment ($25,000) and a new thermal imaging camera ($10,000) for the Fire Department.
*Police Car & Unspecified -$40,000
*New Animal Shelter- $75,000.That money will only be spent if the county appropriates $75,000 to match the cost of the project
*Airport: (Mostly funded by grants):
Lighting Rehabilitation- $325,000
Fuel Farm- $350,000
Taxiway land acquisition-$135,000
Taxiway Initial Design- $150,000
Upgrade existing MX hanger door-$100,000
Land acquisition- $85,000
*Water service truck (water and sewer department)- $50,000
The city also plans to spend $200,000 from the State Street Aid budget to mill and repave the downtown square area and to replace any old worn out water and sewer lines in the process. An expenditure of about $30,000 to be appropriated from the water and sewer fund.
Total general fund revenues are projected to be $4,160,050, not enough to cover total estimated expenditures of $4,856,693. The city plans to appropriate $696,643 from the general fund surplus to balance the budget. The water and sewer fund is expected to show a surplus of $8,155 by year's end with total revenues at $2,628,600 and expenditures of $2,620,445