Extra holidays for the holidays

As Hope town employees celebrate the holidays, they can look forward to an expanded slate of days off next year.

The Hope Town Council approved a measure Monday which expands the annual calendar from nine days off throughout the year to 14.

Hope Town Manager Melanie Fox presented the measure during the council’s regular meeting on Dec. 21. She said the ordinance is designed to bring Hope into line with both state employees and other nearby towns.

Currently, Hope offers nine paid holidays during each year. Employees with the state and Bartholomew County currently receive 14 days, while Columbus employees receive 15.

The change will add New Year’s Eve, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veterans Day, Columbus Day and the day after Thanksgiving to the Hope holiday list.

Hope Town Council President Jonathan Titus said he supported the measure as a low-cost way of rewarding employees for their hard work.

“This is one of those things that we can do for them,” said Titus. “We won’t always have the money for raises or better benefits, but we can do this.”

Fox confirmed that the measure would not increase annual payroll costs.

Council member Ohmer Miller voiced concerns over the specific days proposed in the addition, preferring to add Presidents Day to the list rather than Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“That’s just my personal choice,” Miller said.

While he objected to some of the specifics of the plan, he said he supported the addition of holiday time off during the year.

Ohmer’s colleague on the council, Clyde Compton, said the additions seemed excessive and that he did not like the idea of passing ordinances purely on the basis of broader trends in other towns.

“I don’t see why we have to do everything that Columbus does,” Compton said.

In spite of these objections, the measure passed 3-1. Compton cast the sole dissenting vote.

Pay raises approved

Employees also can look forward to a maximum 2 percent pay increase next year. The Hope Town Council passed its annual salary ordinance in spite of concerns from one of the councilors. Compton said a percentage increase to all workers’ pay would benefit better paid employees more than it did lower earning workers.“I’m not sure it’s fair,” Compton said.Many of the supervisor positions, such as town manager, marshal and utility director, would qualify for up to $1,100 per year increases, while many of the regular employees would be limited to less than $500 per year, Compton said. The disparity does not necessarily reflect the importance of each employee to the town, he added.

Bartholomew County Council member Chris Ogle attended the meeting in an advisory capacity. He warned against using a percentage to set salaries. After months of budget negotiations, the county decided in November to forgo a similar proposal which would have given their employees a 2 percent raise.

Instead, the county council agreed to provide all county workers a one-time payment of $750. That amount is the equivalent of a 2 percent raise for employees making $35,000.

Ogle said the county chose this option to avoid committing to a definite salary increase, which they might not be able provide consistently each year. In other words, once the county offers a structured wage increase, it becomes more difficult to move away from that commitment if the funds are not available in the following years.

In spite of this warning and concerns from Compton, the Hope Town Council voted unanimously to approve the budget order as presented. The salary ordinance was passed at the last possible meeting of the year. State statute requires approval of all salaries for elected officials before the beginning of the new year.

The salary ordinance does not guarantee raises for anyone, Titus said. It merely establishes the maximum amount which pay can be increased each year. Final salary decisions are left to the supervisors in each department.

Hope Town Marshal Matthew Tallent said he felt the entire salary ordinance was in need of a thorough update to iron many important details. He pointed to positions in his office, such as the animal control officer, which were not clearly assigned to his payroll sheet, even though that person clearly fell under his purview.

Fox recommended hiring a human resources consultant to review a wide variety of personnel issues, from updating the employee handbook to reviewing salary policies.

Titus said updating the salary ordinance for the 2017 fiscal years should be a top priority for next year. This would include a thorough review of individual salaries, to ensure pay comparable to state averages, and fine-tuning budgetary details such as properly assigning all positions to the correct supervisor.

By the numbers

9: Number of paid holidays Hope town employees currently receive each year

14: Paid holidays state and Bartholomew County employees receive; also the amount approved for Hope employees next year

15: Paid holidays Columbus city employees receive