1.5 percent raises approved for city workers, elected officials

Columbus City Council members have approved 1.5 percent raises in 2017 for city employees and elected officials Tuesday but not without opposition from several local residents and some voices on the council.

Councilman Frank Miller voted against all the raises, saying the cost-of-living increase calculated by the city is higher than national trends.

“We’ve got a lot of fixed-income folks who didn’t get a pay raise,” he said.

City employees have been granted 2 percent raises each of the past three years after receiving 3 percent raises in 2012 and 2013.

Miller said this year was the time to hold the line.

David Jones, a former park board and plan commission member, said the compounding amount of raises becomes thousands of dollars in the city budget that quickly add up.

He also protested adding a golf pro to the city payroll, questioning why all taxpayers should pay for that when it should come from user fees generated by the city golf courses.

In October, the city’s parks and recreation department took over operation of the Greenbelt and Par 3 golf courses after they had been managed by a private contractor for five years. In October, parks board members including Jones approved a salary range for the golf pro/manager position from $39,838 to $56,911.

History of raises

City records show the city has provided a 2 or 3 percent cost of living raise to city workers and elected officials annually since 2011, with none given in 2009 or 2010.

The 1.5 percent increase for next year, not tied to performance, exceeds the national consumer price index estimate of 1 percent, Brinegar said.

When the raise is calculated on a city worker making $50,000 a year, which would represent what first responders including police and firefighters earn, it would be about a $60 a month raise, Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.

“I really think they are deserving,” Lienhoop said of the employee raises. “When the city can afford it, we give one. When we can’t, we don’t give it. I think it’s the appropriate thing to do.”

Councilman approved the raises for city employees with Miller voting against it.

The protest grew stronger against 1.5 percent raises for elected officials.

Glen Petrie of Columbus said elected officials got a 2 percent raise in the 2016 budget while Social Security recipients didn’t get an increase.

The 2 percent raise for city employees and elected officials for 2016 was approved during the former Mayor Kristen Brown administration.

“Right now, in 2017, the Social Security increase is 0.2 percent — that’s $2.70 a month. I’d like to see the city council show some solidarity with these people and vote this down,” Petrie said.

“Every year, there’s been an increase,” Jones said. “You have voted yourselves raises every single year. This is not appropriate. Vote it down.”

The elected officials raises were approved with Miller and at-large Councilwoman Laurie Booher voting against them.

The city has budgeted $50,000 for a comprehensive study of the city’s wages and benefits to be completed in 2017. Lienhoop said he promised to review the city’s salary ordinance to determine if employees were being compensated fairly.

Later in the meeting, Brinegar gave an overview of the 2017 budget timeline, which will include the first reading of the budget Oct. 4 and the final consideration Oct. 18.

The proposed 2017 budget represents a 1.7 percent increase, or about $890,000 additional spending for 2017.

Jones told the council it was alarming for the city to be moving forward without knowing what its actual revenue will be for 2017, although Brinegar had earlier explained that all cities throughout Indiana are working on budgets based on revenue estimates rather than actual figures from the state.

Listing increases of $2,000 in the clerk-treasurer’s office and $4,000 in the council budget, among others, Jones described the increases as “absolutely appalling” and examples of “bloating a budget.”

Lienhoop said the council would discuss such budget details at its first budget hearing.

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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.