By REID TUCKER
A motion to grant Paxton city water department employees a raise of 2 percent was voted down by a split vote of the Paxton Town Council.
The Council went through several rounds of debate on the issue of merit-based salary raises ever since it was first broached last November, but at the most recent regularly scheduled meeting, held May 17, the Council members finally came to a decision, if not a consensus.
A full, line-itemized financial statement for the city was requested by all Council members at last month’s meeting before they would venture a vote, effectively setting a deadline for a decision at the May meeting. The financial statement showed the city currently has $382,000 available in the general fund budget. More tellingly, as one of the caveats of any talk of employee salary raises was that city’s water system stay in the black, the Council members made special note that the water system showed a $4,200 net profit in the last month alone.
Armed with that information, Councilman Travis McMillian, who heads Paxton’s water department, made a motion to give the two eligible employees a 2- percent raise. That amount, when combined with the cost of living allowance city employees received in October, would equal an overall 5-percent salary increase for the concerned workers. McMillian conceded that this was, in his view, still a low-ball figure for a raise considering the level of service provided by only two employees, but that such a raise would still be better than nothing at all.
“It’s a slap in the face offering 2 percent, but it’s a pure insult to deny [a raise],” McMillian said. “I’m for the people of Paxton but I’m also for the working man in the community. We’ve got a responsibility to our employees too.”
On the other side of the issue was Council chairman Bobby Kemp, who has spoken against a merit raise above an annual cost of living allowance from the beginning. He opposed the measure on the grounds that it would be untenable for Paxton to impose any greater financial burden on the water system’s customer base, which includes senior citizens living on a fixed income.
“People on a fixed income didn’t get a raise,” Kemp said. “They’re the ones I’m most concerned about.”
After brief deliberation, the motion was put to the vote and was defeated three-to-two, with Councilman Tommy Mathis, Councilwoman Jenice Armstrong and Kemp opposing the proposal. McMillian and Cook voted in favor of the motion.
Having resolved that long-standing issue, the Council turned to old business left over from last month’s meeting: whether or not to enter into a payment plan with a water system customer who owes a $2,448 bill because of a leak in a water line.
City Attorney Lori Bytell said the customer had, on three separate occasions, been allowed the once-per-lifetime waiver allowed by the city, making the customer liable for the full amount. Additionally, the customer’s water was shut off due to non-payment because he missed both the May 1 deadline and the May 11 extended deadline. Nevertheless, McMillian and the Council agreed to waive the late penalties, reducing the amount due to $1,800, which the customer said he would still be unable to pay without resorting to a payment plan.
As such, the council’s proposed terms were $74.47 per month for a period of 24 months in addition to the customer’s usual water bill. Bytell said if either the regular bill or the additional money are not paid each month that the customer’s account should not be reactivated until the remaining balance was paid in full. After some additional debate with the Council, the customer agreed to the terms provided and also had his water account reinstated that same evening.
Mathis advised the customer to make sure there were no other leaks in his water lines, as the city was already going to lose money because of the agreement.
“All our bills still have to be paid,” Mathis said. “All the people out in Paxton have to reach down into their pockets.”
Mayor Hayward Thomas reported that vandalism at the Paxton Agricultural Center had cost the city $38 in new light bulbs. It is suspected that neighborhood youngsters broke into the building over the previous weekend or early the following Monday morning. He requested some additional patrols around the premises from Walton County Sheriff’s deputies when they visit the new Paxton Substation.
Unsupervised teenagers have also lately been reported as climbing on the Town Hall roof, which they reached by scaling a nearby generator unit. The Council voted unanimously to install a security fence around the generator in order to prevent future incidents of the kind.
Mathis expressed interest in having security cameras installed around city buildings not only for the deterrent effect cameras tend to have but also so that trespassers could be easily identified. To drive home the point, he used New York City as an example of where, figuratively speaking, “a dozen cameras” would record even the minutest of crimes regardless of the location.
Thomas, who said installing cameras would most likely prove financially unfeasible considering Paxton’s budgetary concerns, was quick with a riposte of his own.
“Yeah, but New York City can afford to pay their employees,” he said.