By ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs City Council received two very different budget suggestions during their August 19 budget workshop meeting. City Manager Kim Kirby, under the direction of the Council, returned to the second workshop with two different versions of the 2009 budget regarding the city’s blue-collar workers.
The first budget showed the city’s workers who were on the lowest end of the pay scale (most under $10 per hour) to get an income increase above the first proposed four-percent cost of living (COLA) increase. This would bring up the pay for most workers an extra 50 cents, an increase of just over a dollar for the lowest paid workers, per hour.
The second proposal showed that the department heads who had received a boost last year would not receive their three-percent merit increases, a measure designed to help balance the budget. Kirby said of the second proposal, “All of our department managers came together and we decided that we would be more than willing to forgo any merit increase, if it would allow our lower-paid workers to receive a little extra and balance the budget.”
The Council discussed the proposals at length. Councilman Don Harrison said, “I can’t agree with this. Not because I don’t think people deserve a raise, they do. I just don’t want to single any group out. I voted against the department heads last year because it singled them out and I don’t think it’s fair to single any group of employees out. I am all for the four-percent increase with merit of up to three percent, but I believe everyone should receive that across the board and not just one certain group.”
Councilman James Huffman spoke up. “I do feel that this budget tonight addresses the lower-paid workers, but I have to express that I am concerned about future revenue for the city. We don’t know how bad Amendment One is going to affect us. I would suggest that we give no more than five percent. That would be a two-percent cost of living or $1,200, whichever is more to each employee, and a merit raise of up to three percent.” Huffman then asked Financial Director Sara Bowers if the city had to pull from the reserves to balance the budget. Bowers respond, “Yes, but we put back in more last year than we pulled to balance the budget.”
Councilman James Coffield told the Council he wanted all employees to receive a percentage increase whether it be five percent or seven percent across the board. “If we’ve got it, then we should give it to them, but we can’t promise this type of raise every year.”
Mayor Harold Carpenter told the Council he agreed with Huffman’s option of four percent or $1,200, which ever is greater, and merit increases up to three percent. Coffield requested the figures for the amount it would cost to pay the four percent offered last week or the $1,200 in a dollar amount. Bowers responded that it would cost around $14,900 for the year.
Huffman said he wanted to “raise up the lower-end employees. How can we expect someone to take care of their family on $8 an hour? But we also need to keep a handle on our reserves.”
The Council then discussed the department heads. Carpenter said the department heads were some of their strongest employees and even though they had offered to forgo merit increase, he believed they deserved them as well. The Council agreed to give City Marshall Mike Adkinson a three-percent merit increase on his hire anniversary date. They also agreed to set up an evaluation system for the finance director’s position and did not comment on Kirby’s salary or an amount of merit raise until evaluation.
In the end, the Council agreed on a consensus to give a four-percent cost of living increase with a minimum of $1,200, plus up to a three-percent merit raise.
The Council reaffirmed this during the August 25 budget workshop. Sara Bowers and Kim Kirby presented the final budget before public hearings. Bowers said the city had been able to bring about an eight-percent reduction in the budget. That means a cut of about $2.5 million from the 2009 budget. Kirby said she wanted to thank Bowers and all of the staff for their hard work on the budget. “Everyone really came together on this and I am really proud of all their hard work,” she said.
The first public hearing on the budget is set for September 8 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.