By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council remained divided over whether to approve raises for the employees of the city’s water department.
Employee evaluations and the prospect of non cost-of-living pay raises have been a matter of contention since the new council members assumed office in November. The council unanimously voted to hold off on a final decision until after the first of the year when, presumably, the new members would have had a chance to familiarize themselves with city employees and to observe them at work. In spite of cases being made for and against pay raises for employees pursuant to positive evaluations, the council once again elected to table the issue, this time until March, when the new water and sewer rates will have taken effect.
Billing Clerk Judy Williams, who wrote the proposed 2011 water and sewer budgets, both of which had to be increased 5 percent over fiscal year 2010 in order to prevent the city from losing money, said the combined budgets include around $4,000 of cash on hand specifically for merit raises and one-time pay increases. Even though these funds will technically become available upon adoption of the new budgets, the problem is that the first reading of the ordinance had to be postponed until February, which Williams said upset the city’s finances.
Though the council will return to the issue in March, some council members remained skeptical that two months’ time would make any difference in terms of the city’s ability to, in good faith, give pay raises to its water and sewer employees. Councilman Bobby Kemp said he opposed raises on the ground that he was leery of placing additional hardships on Paxton’s low-income households and on those that depend on social security. Councilman Tommy Mathis agreed, but lamentably so, as he feels the city’s workers should have a raise, especially since they haven’t gotten one in three years.
“I think our employees are some of the best there are and I think they ought to have a raise,” Mathis said. “I just don’t think now is the time to do it. I think they deserve a raise…I just think that it would leave a bad taste in the mouths of the people that voted for us and put us on the council.”
City Attorney Lori Bytell, on the other hand, advised the council to consider the possibility of giving raises to the city’s employees, especially considering that the most senior among them has more than 22 years of service in Paxton. According to a survey of pay rate scales for the water and sewer system workers of local municipalities, Paxton’s senior water department employee makes almost $8 less per hour than his counterpart with the city of DeFuniak Springs, even though that worker has served nine years fewer.
Bytell said the council members’ dedication to stewardship of Paxtonians’ money is admirable, but in light of these facts, all facets of any decision regarding evaluation-based salary increases should be carefully weighed….
Read the full story in the January 27, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.