Tie in council vote nixes pay hike
By John Rech firstname.lastname@example.org
It came to the point of decision concerning raises for the West Memphis Utilities employees at the first City Council meeting in March. Starting last summer when the Utilities Commission forwarded a recommendation to City Council for department raises, Utilities leaders jumped through a series of hoops in an attempt to meet expectations in hopes of raises. Thursday Afternoon the West Memphis City Council just said no. In a roll call vote the measure failed to muster a majority and died in a 3-3 tie. Following the story from the beginning, first a pair of Utilities workers jumped the gun on procedures and directly asked City Council for a raise. Next, the Utilities conducted an industry based benchmark wage survey which went though their commission and onto the budget committee. That study concluded a 13 percent raise in the payroll budget would bring the wages up to average. The matter went before city council and was rejected, but on the same day councilors voted to give a raise of 3 percent to all city employees for 2016. This ended a half decade drought of wages freezes in city government. Still not finished with raise request, the budget committee wanted to make double sure of the recommendation and asked the utilities administration for numbers that overlaid municipal league data and squeezed out another wage analysis with similar results. With the three percent raise now in hand, the second study concluded and 11 percent increase in the department payroll would bring workers up to average pay levels. Budget Chairman Tracy Catt focused on the department restructuring saying the increased payroll was practically a wash because of other personnel changes in the department. Some attrition had not been replaced and some job duties were combined. “It’s being brought back to you again,” said Catt. “The annual budget approved on January 21 had a total actual salaries budget of $3,741,732. The salaries on this presentation are 3,778,888 so it is about it is about $30,000 more than the approved budget. Because of personnel changes it is going to save the City of West Memphis approximately $42,000. This brings them back to very close to the original budget. Speaking to the utilities administration they are seeking direction. They want to know if this is approved or denied so they can move forward.” Those opposed had varying reasons. Some said enough was enough. With a three percent raise just taken effect and another three percent year end bonus just doled out the brakes needed to be applied said some. Others said one for all and all for one, they’d consider a raise when all the departments where considered. City Council just said no for now. “People in my ward and various places are opposing this because they feel it should be fair across the board,” said Councilor Lorraine Robinson. “They did receive a raise and a bonus for the holiday and the first of the year; if one department is getting, that all should be getting in the sense of fairness.” “The problem I have with it is that we said we were going to sit down and work through all the departments,” said James Pulliaum. “I think we should work through them all and then work through what we need to doing instead of doing one here and one there.” “The longer we wait the more we get behind the curve,” replied Catt. “It will just become more painful to make adjustments when we do.” Ultimately Utilities Manager John Rimmer asked City Council for an up or down vote on the raise request. The move brought closure to the matter and allowed the utilities department to make personnel decisions based on the status quo moving ahead into 2016. “I am simply asking, at the request of the utilities administration for approval or denial so they can move forward.” In the role call vote Pulliaum, Harris, Robinson voted no; and Taylor, Tyrone, and Catt voted yes. Councilors Holt, Hutchinson McClendon and Mondy were absent. The payroll budget amendment failed for lack of majority.