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CITY MEETING STALLS WHEN BLUE-COLLAR WAGES DISCUSSED

Aug 20th, 2008 | 0

By Alicia Leonard

The DeFuniak Spring budget workshop held on August 12 started out smoothy enough, but hit the same snag as they have hit last year while preparing budgets. Whether to help the lower-paid workers for the city receive better wages or even a small bonus while the top positions in the city rack up impressive wage increases.
In 2006 the DeFuniak Springs City Council paid for a salary study to be done to bring their workers more in line with the pay scale of surrounding communities. In 2007, this study was the guide used to bring department heads salaries up, in some cases up over 10 percent. As quoted in the Herald on August 23, 2007, “The city manager’s position is the highest-paid salary for a city employee. City Manager Kim Kirby’s starting base salary in 2005 was 65,000. In October of 2005, she received a five-percent bump in salary and in 2006 she received a nine-percent pay raise.” Kirby also received the seven-percent total pay raise in 2007-2008 bringing her up to $79,587. With the recommended increase of a four-percent base raise and a three-percent performance raise in 2008-2009 budget, Kirby will take home 85,254.08. This shows Kirby has received a $20,254-increase since 2005.
City Marshal Mike Adkinson received a bump in salary from $54,485.60 to $65,000,00 for the 2007-2008 budget year. With a four percent cost of living increase and a three percent performance bonus, Adkinson’s salary will move up to $70,163.60. An increase of $15,678.00 in the last two years.
Fire Chief Brian Coley received a $10,000 raise in 2006 and another bump of $5,932,00 in the 2007-2008 budget. With a four-percent cost of living increase and a three-percent performance increase, Coley will move up to $67,114.93 from $62,653.97. That’s an increase of $20,392.96 since 2005-2006. Coley was quoted in the Herald in last year’s budget workshop as saying,”I appreciate the raise, but I would rather make sure my people get raises they deserve.”
City Finance Director Sara Bowers, one of the lowest-paid department heads, received an increase in 2007-2008 from $54,329.60 to $62,751.10. With a possible seven-percent raise, Bowers could bring in an extra $4,467 in the 2008-2009 budget. In the last two years, Bowers has received an increase of $12,889.30.
The Council also agreed during last year’s budget workshop to give themselves a raise from $3,120 a year to $6,000 and the mayor received a raise from $4,160 to $9,000.
During last year’s workshop, Councilman Don Harrison cast the only nay vote regarding raising Mike Adkinson’s salary increase. Harrison and Councilman Wayne Graham also voted against against the proposed 15-percent raise for Bowers and Coley.
During last year’s workshop, longevity bonuses were discussed. Instead of bringing lower-paid staff more in line with other cities, such as the department heads had received, the budget talks ground to a halt. During the August 30, 2007 workshop, Councilman James Huffman said, “This makes me uncomfortable. The taxpayer will pay the same amount in taxes, and why is it, when it comes down to the workers for the city, they have had to bear the burden of not being rewarded? When it comes to the worker’s time to be rewarded, and the all of a sudden we can’t afford to pay them?” The Council agreed to shelve longevity bonuses or extra payment incentives until the 2008-2009 budget.
At the latest budget workshop, Councilman James Huffman remembered last year’s discussion about giving workers some type of longevity bonus or increasing their pay. Huffman said, “Wait, didn’t we talk about this last year? We had enough to bring up some salaries, but not everyone’s. I still think we need to address the people on the lower-pay scale.”
When Kirby was asked by Huffman about the comparison study for the lower paid workers, Kirby responded, “Some are higher than we pay and some are lower.”
Mayor Harold Carpenter and Councilman Henry Ennis nodded their heads in agreement with Huffman’s concern over lower-paid employees not getting their fair share from salary increases. Graham remained silent and Harrison said he didn’t support increasing lower level workers’ pay. “We have plenty of people applying for jobs, so we must be doing something right,” said Harrison. Bower’s replied that it was more likely the state of the economy that has caused an increase in applications coming into the city and audience members were in audible agreement with Bowers assessment. Florida’s unemployment rate for July was 6.1 percent. This is the highest it’s been in 13 years.
Huffman said, “I remember when we discussed this last year and we promised to look into it and help our employees on the other end of the pay scale, if we could.” Huffman requested copies of all different pay scales and levels of pay to look over before the next budget workshop.
In the end, all employees are to receive a four-percent cost of living increase and some will receive bonus performance raises. In 2007, the Herald documented that the combined raises of three city department heads that were approved equaled $27,766. That was $2,968 more than it would have cost the city to pay longevity awards to all city employees starting with their first year of service. The Herald will have gone to press before the meeting scheduled on August 19, but other budget workshop dates, which are open to the public, are tentatively set for August 25 at 5:30 (before that night’s Council meeting) and the first public hearing on tentative millage and budget is set for Sept. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

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