The 2019 Fiscal Year is right around the corner for Columbia and city council is working to finalize the budget. This includes major amendments to current city employee wages.
This week 5th Ward Councilmember Matt Pitzer sits down to discuss proposed wage changes for city employees and other budgetary concerns for the 2019 fiscal year.
What changes are being made to the fiscal year 2019 budget for wages?
Well there are three changes that have been proposed and that would be included in the final budget. The first one would increase the minimum pay for all city employees to $15. The second component would move employees with at least five years of experience, who are eligible, to move to the midpoint of their salary range. Then the third component would be an additional .20 cent raise across the board. The purpose of that .20 cent raise would be to make sure that no employees actually see a decrease in their take-home pay because of some temporary pay changes that we made during the previous fiscal year.
Who will be affected by these changes?
All city employees will see an increase of actually .45 cents an hour total. In the original budget there was a .25 cent increase proposed and we added .20 cents to that. Anybody making less than $15 will be moved to that, for some it might be more, but $15 will be the minimum. And everybody who is eligible to move to the midpoint, if you are performing as you should you will be moved to that point.
How much is this going to cost the city and where is the money coming from?
So the total out of the general fund is about $1.4 million for the fiscal ’19 year. The way we are funding it, number one we looked at the revenue projections that were included in the city managers original budget. The council decided that we thought those were a little too pessimistic. The second thing that we did is we assumed some more realistic projections on vacancies and turnover within the departments across the city. And then the third thing we did was we looked at some of the funding of some internal service funds. We reduced that amount that is going to a couple of those funds because they had been overfunded over the last few years. So when you combine all three actions that allowed us to fund that total of $1.4 million in pay increases.
You suggested using $400,000 in general fund to staff downtown police. Why did you think that was important as opposed to some of the other propositions?
My idea would have created dedicated positions that would be filled and go to that job. Now it would have come out of those pay increases for other employees. It’s a balancing act. Every city employee is under-payed. We’ve tried to do what we can. Funding is a challenge, so if we had allocated the $1 million toward pay increases and then the other $400,000 to creating this additional presence, I felt that was a good balance. The other council members wanted to go with the full amount going toward the pay.
Safety seems to be something that all of the council finds very important. Why then did they go in a different direction?
The challenge is that it needs to be funded with recurring revenue. It's not just a one-time spending program. So it has to come out of the operating budget. it has to be there every year. The challenge is finding that kind of money. And there are members of safety that are going to see these pay raises so it's not like we aren't making any investments. With the things that we did this year to identify some additional spending, I just think that the other council members wanted to focus on some of the employee pay issues because that's something that has been lingering for a number of years. Those are promises made that haven't been met.
Is there anything going forward that city council has their eye on to make sure that city employees are put in a good wage situation?
I think that it has really become apparent over the last year or two that employee hadn’t been keeping up with the rest of the marketplace. So, city employees are never going to be the highest paid employees in their field. That’s just not how government works, nor should it, but we need to have some meaningful raises and meaningful competition increases in order to keep the folks that we do have because they do have other opportunities. We are in competition with other entities and if we have a great deal of turnover we are not delivering the services that citizens are paying for.
While the budget is not set in stone, Pitzer expects most of the major suggestions to wage changes will remain in the budget. City council can tweak any addition budgetary concerns when they finalize the 2019 fiscal year budget at their next meeting on September 17th.