After an hour of discussion over employee pay raises, a budget committee for the city of Columbus agreed to move forward with a plan to allocate funds in the upcoming fiscal year budget for salary increases among city employees.
The committee was formed after two pay raise plans were proposed in a Wednesday budget hearing. In that meeting councilmen formed a budget committee tasked with exploring options for employee raises. The appointed committee consisted of Interim Chief Operations Officer Mark Alexander Jr., Chief Financial Officer Deliah Vaughn, Ward 1 Councilwoman Ethel Stewart, Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones. Thursday’s meeting was attended by Alexander, Vaughn, Stewart, Beard, Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene and Ward 6 Councilwoman Jackie DiCicco.
Budget committee members on Thursday recognized city employees need a raise but did not want to rush into a salary increase decision before the Sept. 15 budget deadline. In turn, the committee decided to move forward in plans to allocate $549,765 in employee raises for the next fiscal year. Alexander and Vaughn will take time over the next few months to create a salary plan that rewards employees with pay raises based on performance and tenure.
“Money projected to give raises will be in the budget,” Greene said. “It will be set aside and right now, there is no timetable when (Alexander and Vaughn) will come up with a comprehensive plan that we can tweak.”
The millage for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is set at 54.11. It includes a 2.59-mill increase for the city’s general obligation debt as well as a .75-mill increase for urban renewal bonds — included in the operations budget — the city issued in 2018 to pay for redevelopment efforts in Burns Bottom. A .47-mill reduction in a firefighter disability and relief fund, which is set by the state, brings the balance of the mill increase to 2.87.
A mill is used to measure property taxes and is paid based on the assessed value of real property, vehicles and other personal property. The increase means a city resident will pay an additional $28.70 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
The council previously discussed a flat 3-percent increase for all city employees at the council’s budget meeting Tuesday but acknowledged that not all employees may deserve a pay raise such as not having been there for a long period of time or not performing well enough to receive one.
Vice Mayor Joseph Mickens, who serves Ward 2 and was not in attendance at Thursday’s hearing, proposed raising the city employee minimum wage to $12 per hour Wednesday, but Alexander said such a move could negatively impact employees who make just above that amount. He suggested the people who do an overall good job should instead be rewarded for their performance.
“What about that guy who makes $12.50 who has been working here 16 years?” Alexander said. “He wouldn’t get that 3 percent raise. What about that person who’s making $14 an hour for 18 years? These are real people I’m talking about.”
Mayor Keith Gaskin expressed approval of this plan, but said it will require immense work to properly recognize hard-working employees. He said Alexander and Vaughn need to acquire employee paperwork and evaluations and set goals for department heads before deciding who will receive an increase.
“It’s very difficult when you’re dealing with an institution that’s the size of ours and dealing with taxpayer dollars, it’s difficult to do this in a way that’s fair and equitable to everybody,” Gaskin said.
Need to grow
Alexander said this plan will not only affect current employees but all who follow after.
While he expressed support for this employee pay raise, he advised the council that it needs to find ways to efficiently spend taxpayer dollars. Gaskin pointed to the city’s shrinking tax base over the past 10 years and said the city needs to find ways to improve infrastructure, maintain city debt and provide services in a way that keeps residents in the city and does not increase property taxes every year.
“Columbus as an entity has got to grow,” Alexander said. “Growing means attracting more people to move here to Columbus and keeping the people that we have.”
Alexander said creating an efficient employee salary plan based on merit and tenure is the first step in bettering the city. While the plan will not be completed before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1, he said, he and Vaughn intend to work diligently to develop a layout in the coming months instead of rushing to complete it within the next five days.
“If you do this, you’ll set the city up better than it’s been in the last 30 (years),” Alexander said.