Warner Robins poised to adjust city employee salaries

chwright@macon.comMarch 16, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Warner Robins City Council expects to pass a pay adjustment for city employees Monday that will take effect for the last quarter of the fiscal year at a cost of about $200,000.

“Our employees work hard, and they deserve to be compensated,” said Councilman Paul Shealy, adding the salary adjustments could reduce the number of employees who seek jobs elsewhere and the amount of city overtime.

City Council discussed the city employees’ salaries at Thursday’s precouncil meeting, where only Mayor Chuck Shaheen and Councilman Daron Lee opposed an ordinance council will vote on during its regular Monday meeting.

“I want to help the employees -- God knows I do,” Lee said. “But not if we really don’t have the money.”

The city solicited a study from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia that compared Warner Robins city employee salaries to similar positions in governments surrounding the city. It found employees to be largely underpaid and the pay scale to lack uniformity.

Since the study was released in February 2011, city officials have said they want to implement one of the six plans suggested but have delayed until funds were located.

Shealy, who presented the item Thursday, said he and other councilmen have done just that.

According to the drafted ordinance, funds from unfilled positions that were part of the fiscal 2012 budget will be used to pay for the implementation of the second most costly plan recommended in the pay scale study. A revised version of the cost to implement the plan was not available.

If for some unforeseen reason more funds are needed, funds from the reserve would be used, Shealy said.

“You got to have a cushion,” Shealy said of the reserve fund backup plan.

No concrete figures were available Thursday regarding how much money is left from the unfilled positions this fiscal year, but Shealy insisted it’s definitely more than $200,000.

A short debate arose between Lee and the other council members when he challenged the necessity of passing the adjustment without firm figures. He also asked how it would affect the fiscal 2013 budget.

Shaheen said he firmly believes the pay scale needs to be adjusted.

“That’s why I asked for the study,” he said. “It hadn’t been done since 1984.”

However, he said in a phone interview after the meeting he doesn’t believe it should be implemented right now.

“We’re basically going to be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said implementing a new pay scale now is logistically unsound because it will call for the adjustment for 520 city employees to be entered in the next two weeks. The new salaries would begin April 2.

Finance Director Bill Harte told council he recommends the new pay plan be implemented in July, when the new fiscal year begins. To do it now will mean a budget amendment, which Harte said he’s never done.

Councilman Mike Daley said the urgency is that there are employees working dangerous positions for inadequate salaries.

New council members Mike Davis and Carolyn Robbins pointed out the discussions have been going on since the study came out last year. Davis said he and Robbins even aided in a 7-0 City Council vote in December that said a form of the study would be implemented in 2012.

“While we’re playing around with all these figures, we’ve got employees out there that need us,” Robbins said.

Shealy confirmed Monday’s vote would effectively increase the city’s operating expenses for the coming fiscal year, but he and Robbins said it will not mean a millage rate increase because available funds will have increased as well.

Shealy said those funds include money that won’t be used to fund capital expenses -- as they will be covered through a recently passed special purpose local option sales tax. Also, properties annexed into Warner Robins will now have to pay property taxes to the city.

Shaheen cut off any further debate about the topic.

“I don’t want us to get away from” the original consensus that city employees’ pay needs to be adjusted, he told the council. “We all agree on that.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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