1.5% raise planned for city employees

Members of the Columbus City Council are considering a request to give all municipal employees a 1.5 percent raise next year as the council hears 2017 budget proposals from city department heads this week.

Preliminary hearings for the city budget began Monday, with the departments that report directly to Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop — including the police, fire, planning and aviation departments — giving the first presentations to the council.

The proposed 2017 budget represents a 1.7 percent — or about $890,000 — increase, said Jamie Brinegar, the city’s director of finance, operations and risk. As part of that proposal, the general fund budget — which provides funding for most city activities, including the police and fire departments, city sanitation, transit, etc. — would increase by about 0.7 percent for next year.

In his budget-hearing introduction, Brinegar said this year’s budget was designed to support the four pillars Lienhoop outlined for his administration during his State of the City address in March:

Public safety

Economic development

Education

Making Columbus an employer of choice

Becoming an employer of choice means offering competitive wages and benefits, Brinegar said, which is why the city is proposing the across-the-board increase for all city employees and elected officials to cover an increase in the cost of living.

The cost-of-living increase will not be tied to employee performance but instead will be allocated to all municipal employees and elected officials, Lienhoop said. However, a few city employees will see adjustments to their salaries based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, rather than the citywide cost-of-living increase, he said. The 1.5 percent increase is estimated to cost the city $239,256.

For the current budget year, the council approved a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for all municipal employees and elected city officials.

Bartholomew County government opted to forego raises for its full-time employees in 2016 and instead offered a one-time bonus of $750 to help offset rising health care costs — equivalent to a 2 percent pay increase for a county worker making $35,000 a year.

The city is also facing an estimated 5 to 7 percent increase in its health care costs this year, but Brinegar said the 2017 budget does not call for employees to increase their individual contributions.

Instead, the city is proposing to increase its contributions to the health care fund by about $400 per employee to $11,750 per employee per year in 2017.

The city has seen an increase in its health care claims, which is driving the overall costs up, Brinegar said.

Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development, said the city did not want to increase employee contributions to their health care costs without first educating them on how to keep those costs down.

That’s why 2017 has been designated as a wellness year for the city, Ferdon said.

In partnership with SIHO Insurance Services and Columbus Regional Health, Ferdon told council members that next year the city will focus on educating its employees on how their personal levels of health can affect their overall health care costs each year. City leaders hope employees will use that education to find ways to reduce their health care costs on their own, she said.

In addition to the proposed salary increase, the city has also budgeted $50,000 for a comprehensive study of the city’s wages and benefits to be completed in 2017.

When his administration took over in January, Lienhoop and his top staffers promised to review the city’s salary ordinance to determine if employees were being compensated fairly.

Public safety budget

The biggest portion of both the 2017 general fund and city budget will be directed toward Lienhoop’s public safety pillar, Brinegar said.

About 53.7 percent — or $18,274,856 — of the general fund has been designated for the Columbus Police and Fire departments’ operational budgets alone, the finance director said.

When capital projects, pension funding and city dispatch costs for those departments are also factored in, the police and fire departments are requesting to receive a combined total of $23,863,156 — 43.7 percent of the proposed total 2017 budget, he said.

Among the public safety funding requests for 2017 is a proposal by the Columbus Police Department to add three new employees — one new officer and two civilian employees.

The Columbus Fire Department is also requesting nearly $600,000 in capital spending, including $125,000 for improvements at the fire training ground, $322,000 for repair work at Fire Station 1 and $150,000 for refurbishment work on the Squad 5 truck.

In total, the council will hear about $12 million in capital requests from the various city departments, and Brinegar said he estimated about $8 million of that will be approved for funding.

The council was scheduled to hear requests for capital improvement funding on Tuesday afternoon, when departments that report to Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer, made their budget presentations. That includes departments such as engineering, transit, sanitation and other similar areas of city work.

The city budget also provides support for the mayor’s education pillar in the form of $750,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. through the city redevelopment commission.

To support the economic development pillar, Brinegar said the 2017 budget includes an allocation $150,000 in economic development income tax funds for economic development services provided by the Columbus Economic Development Board.

The hearings are scheduled to wrap up today, when the departments that report to Ferdon, such as community development, human resources and human rights, bring their budget proposals before the council.

After the preliminary hearings this week, the city will bring its formal budget request before the council Sept. 20.

Budget review timetable

Wednesday

Preliminary 2017 city budget hearings wrap up with presentations from the redevelopment department and all other departments that report to Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development.

Aug. 16

The Columbus City Council will take an initial vote on the salary ordinances for city employees and elected officials to include the  proposed 1.5 percent cost of living increase.

Sept. 1

The city must have its proposed budget ready to present to the county for approval, as required by Indiana law.

Sept. 10

The budget must be submitted to the state so that it can be posted and advertised online ahead of the formal budget presentation.

Sept. 20

The council will hear the formal 2017 city budget proposal.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.