Proposal to place cap on salary hikes nixed
By MIKE ANTHONY
An effort to place a 6 percent cap on employee raises for fiscal 2004 recently was defeated by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.
Aldermen voted 4-3 last week to defeat the 6 percent cap proposed by Ward 3 Al-derman Don Maddox. Maddox's motion to establish the cap was seconded by Ward 3 Alderman "Bernie'' Alexander.
Besides Maddox and Alexander, board President Richard Breeding of Ward 1 voted in favor of establishing the 6 percent cap on fiscal 2004 salary increases.
Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Rich-ard LaBore, Ward 2 Alderman Tim True-blood, Ward 2 Alderman Gary Vincent and Ward 4 Alderman Tom Fagan. Ward 4 Al-derman Pat Duwe was absent.
The Board of Aldermen last fall adopted a new pay and classification plan designed to compensate employees based on their performance and the value of their job as determined by the marketplace — a comparable group of "sister cities.'' The new pay and classification plan was debated and discussed over a four-month period be-fore receiving approval last October.
During the June 24 board meeting, Maddox and Alexander voiced concerns that six Fire Department captains were re-ceiving 13.6 percent raises and two police officers were receiving 9.4 percent raises under the new pay plan. The two said they believed the amount of those raises was unreasonable given the city's current fi-nancial situation.
But other members of the board, including Vincent and Fagan, said they were opposed to modifying the plan so soon after its implementation. They also noted that the total cost of the raises proposed by the new plan was roughly $175,000, in-cluding merit increases — a 1.7 percent increase over fiscal 2003 salaries.
Alexander said, "... Last year when we voted on our pay plan to bring Crestwood into a competitive situation with our sister cities, we saw some rather large percentage increases for our employees, which was fine because we were apparently not competitive at that time. The two positions that this year carry a 13.6 percent increase and a 9.4 percent increase, that is an increase that has occurred in the last year and it has occurred when you look at the detail because one sister city has given over a $10,000 increase in a particular category, and I cannot in good conscience — with the efforts that we have made, specifically the city administrator and staff, to cut this budget to a point where it is workable and we are working toward an internal trust fund so that we don't have to borrow from one fund for another during the year — I cannot in good conscience say that we can give someone a 13.6 percent in-crease in one year.
"There has to be a solution to that situation when you have one sister city that does something that throws all of the numbers off. A 4.7 percent increase, yes, you can understand that, but not 13.6 (percent),'' Alexander added.
City Administrator Don Greer later said, "... I prepared this consistent with what was adopted and I can tell you that I had a very similar reaction to what I'm hearing on the board and did talk with the city in particular and that the position is comparable. It was a significant adjustment and I could find no, what I would say legitimate reason to exclude that number from that ... I share the concern and I wish I had a really good suggestion as to what to tell you that I think is appropriate. I think there's a certain integrity to the system that I work to maintain so that if you have one class of employees whose salary goes up 13 percent and we've also got classes of employees whose salaries went down ... 4, 5 and 7 percent. And yes, their salaries aren't going to be reduced, but it does limit their ability to have their salary move or change at all. And I think what we're going to find over the years is there are ebbs and flows in these wages ...''
Fagan later said, "... If we continue to have these financial difficulties in 2005, the solution is nobody will be getting a salary increase, which is what happened before. I think that's one of the solutions that would be forthcoming in 2005 and I mean it's been some time, but I think there were a number of years that people didn't get raises. So I do agree that cutting the number of people like we did this year (a dozen positions were eliminated) may only be a one-time deal, but in the future instead of having any salary increases, if finances warrant it, there may not be any salary increase ... As Alderman Alexander pointed out, that there were only two positions that have this kind of increase, I think it shows that the plan is working in and of itself.''
Fagan later asked Maddox to explain the "rationale'' of establishing a 6 percent cap.
Maddox said, "... (A) 13 percent increase is unreasonable when the other employees are getting 1 or 2 percent. Six percent, if you want to make it lower, I'd be glad to make it lower ... 13 percent is unreasonable. What comes closer to being reasonable?''
Vincent later said, "I have to respectfully disagree with the proponents of this measure. What I hear them say is the pay plan's fine if you're only getting a 2 percent increase, but if you're going to get something significant, we're not going to let you have that. And we've only had this in place for six months, so what's the point of going through all this exercise of putting in this program that's supposed to give you a job value that's essentially what's out there in the marketplace if the first time the marketplace makes a movement high, we go and cut if off in the middle or less ...''
In addition, Vincent said he was concerned with how employees would react to an effort to cap raises.
" I think that the employees are going to look at this with a real skewed viewpoint as to what we're trying to do to them after we went through all those hoopla to give them a fair plan that's going to really treat them right and then come the first person that's going to get a decent raise out of it, we go yank it out. So, I was an employee, I'd just say this really stinks ...,'' he said.
Alexander later said, "I have to disagree politely with Alderman Vincent because 13.6 percent I think is way over what I would consider a decent raise. I mean talk to the people in the city who have lost their jobs, who cannot find employment. But that's the humanitarian part of it. I want to deal with the dollars and cents part of it. If you continue 10 years down the road allowing 14 percent increases when our income is only going up by, I think our budget is 1 percent, there's no way that this city can sustain itself. I would assume that of the 105 employees, they'd all rather be capped at 6 percent and have a job, then not to be capped and next year 20 of them are without a job.''