Initial vote passes on 1.5 percent raises for city employees, elected officials

Columbus City Council has given initial approval to a 1.5 percent across-the-board raise for city employees and elected officials in 2017.

The vote was 5-1, with councilman Frank Miller voting no. Councilwoman Laurie Booher did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting.

Jamie Brinegar, the city’s director of finance, explained the city has given a cost-of-living adjustment to city employees in five of the past six years. The proposed 1.5 percent increase exceeds the national consumer price index estimates of 1 percent. The raises will not be tied to performance.

Before the vote, Miller told the council it was difficult to look at a cost-of-living increase for city employees and the possibility of taxpayers paying more when community residents on fixed incomes were not getting an increase.

David Jones, a former appointed parks and recreation board and plan commission member, said it was not responsible to pass salary increases when the city does not have its revenue projections from the state about how much in tax receipts the city will receive.

Jones said granting across-the-board raises to employees who clock in and out on the government’s time gives a pass to city workers and was not fair to the taxpayer.

Local resident Ken Fudge told council members that failing to take performance of a city employee into consideration in setting raises would hurt workforce morale.

Jones also criticized elected officials voting themselves a 1.5 percent increase, saying he had a distaste for the whole process.

“You should not be voting yourselves a raise above the cost of living,” he said.

However, Councilman Tim Shuffett said the city had a responsibility to compensate employees fairly to retain them and to be as competitive as possible in its wage ordinance.

For the 2016 budget, the council had 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 also is 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 does not want to increase employee contributions to their health care costs without first educating them on how to keep those costs down, Brinegar told the council. Next year, in partnership with SIHO Insurance Services and Columbus Regional Health, the city will focus on educating its employees on how their personal levels of health can affect their overall health care costs each year.

In addition to the 1.5 percent increases, the city is increasing the salaries of about a dozen employees in management positions to take them above the federal Department of Labor overtime pay threshold for 2017. Effective Dec. 1, any U.S. workers making less than $47,476, more than double the previous threshold of $23,660, must be paid overtime for putting in more than 40 hours of work.

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.

The proposal to increase wages for next year will come up for a final vote by the city council at its Sept. 20 meeting.

City elected official salaries for 2017

Raises of 1.5 percent have been recommended for elected city officials. If approved for a second time by the Columbus City Council during its Sept. 20 meeting, the following elected efficials will earn the amounts listed below for 2017.

Mayor: $91,687

Clerk-Treasurer: $76,033

City council members: $7,668

As full-time city employees, the mayor and clerk-treasurer receive the same benefits as other full-time city employees.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.