Budget includes $5,000 raises for department heads next year
Members of the City of Fairfield’s ways and means committee disagreed on giving raises to the city’s department heads.
The ways and means committee met Wednesday to delve into the proposed 2013-2014 city budget. The issue that divided the committee was whether the city could afford to give five department heads $5,000 raises in addition to a 3 percent cost-of-living salary increase.
The five department heads that would receive a raise are those in the fire, police, park and recreation, streets and city clerk departments.
Committee members Daryn Hamilton and John Revolinski believed it was time to give those department heads a salary bump, but Connie Boyer was uncomfortable with the size of the increase.
City Administrator Kevin Flanagan said the percent of the budget that goes to salaries has stayed fairly constant over the years. What has changed is what other cities and local governments pay their employees.
“It’s not just the high retirement costs,” Flanagan said. “Somewhere along the line, Fairfield stopped keeping up with the Joneses. We jogged back not in one or two or three departments but in every department. Not only is the police department low, but many of your other departments are not paying what they should be to comparable jobs out there.”
Fairfield Police Chief Julie Harvey said it is a constant struggle to retain her employees, because many of them leave the department for more money at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
“We just lost somebody, so we have to hire and train again,” she said. “It’s like we’re buying a new car without paying down the debt, and then buying a new car again. We never get the return on our investment because three people have walked out on a contract, and are now paying us back $100 a month on it.”
Flanagan added that the city should consider raises such as 5 to 7 percent in the coming years to bring Fairfield’s city employees closer in line with the average salary for city employees in Iowa. He said the city should start that endeavor by increasing the salaries of its department heads.
“With this budget, we’re going to address leadership cadre,” he said. “These five people are severely below what their comparables are making.”
Flanagan said the city should not be at the bottom of employee pay in the state. If Fairfield continues to underpay its employees, he said the city will face a “brain drain” whereby it loses its talented workers to higher-paying cities and counties.
At the same time, he said Fairfield could not afford to be at the top of the pay scale.
“That’s for the urban fat cats,” he said.
Revolinski said Fairfield has held the line on employee pay for so many years that it is now catching up to the city.
“This budget gives our city a more professional feeling, and I think that’s good for morale,” he said.
Another issue the committee spent considerable time on was the $3 million bond for the indoor pool and gym. Flanagan said in order for the pool to be operational by 2014, construction must start this spring. He said there are upfront costs to be borne before the project can get off the ground, and suggested the city contribute $200,000 to move it along.
Boyer said an additional $200,000 for the pool would come as a surprise to the taxpayers. She believed most taxpayers assumed the city would spend up to $3 million on the pool and gym since that is what it bonded for. Revolinski agreed, saying the city bonded for $3 million and not $3.2 million.
“Every $200,000 adds up,” Revolinski said.
Flanagan suggested the city could spend $200,000 on upfront costs for the pool and divide the remaining $2.8 million between the pool and gym.
Regarding another matter, Hamilton said he was opposed to using local option sales tax (LOST) funds to pay for a full-time position. The city and Iowa State University both contribute to the salary of Scott Timm, the sustainability coordinator at Jefferson County – Iowa State University Extension.
Hamilton said the city should look into alternative funding sources for Timm’s salary if the city retains his services for more than a year.
The public hearing on the budget is 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at City Hall.