Warner Robins budget includes new positions, pay raises

jmink@macon.comMay 23, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Warner Robins’ proposed budget includes pay raises, extra positions and no additional taxes for next fiscal year.

It was an accomplishment partly made possible by decreased health insurance and retirement contributions and city officials’ determination to not increase taxes. The nearly $35.6 million general fund budget is balanced and also does not recommend utility hikes, according to updated budget information released late Wednesday by Mayor Chuck Shaheen’s office.

“There are no tax increases, and that’s really good for these economic times,” Shaheen said Monday during a City Council meeting.

The budget includes an average 3 percent salary increase for city employees to adjust for the cost of living.

“Your employees are your greatest resource,” Shaheen told The Telegraph on Thursday. Officials were able to budget that pay adjustment “because we managed our finances well last year and cut expenses and generated revenue.”

The budget includes a $900,000 drop in health insurance contributions. Over the past couple of years, employee contributions increased from $32 to $62 per pay period, but they are still among the lowest in the area, Shaheen said. Additionally, insurance claims have decreased, officials said.

“We increased the benefit package,” he said, “but it’s still better than anybody in Middle Georgia.”

Councilman Paul Shealy remembers when insurance rates increased. At the time, cost-of-living adjustments increased by 1.5 percent, a raise which basically was canceled out by the insurance increase, he said. He said he is happy to see the 3 percent cost-of-living increase in the new budget.

“You’ve got to take care of your employees,” he said, adding he is pleased the budget has no tax or utility rate hikes. “I am 95 percent good with the budget.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins also praised the budget for being balanced and including no tax increases. There might be some questions from the council on how the cost-of-living salary increase will be implemented, “but it’s nothing we can’t work out,” she said.

The budget also includes a decrease of more than $754,000 in retirement contributions, due to improved conditions in the Georgia Municipal Employee Benefit System, the budget memo to council states. The plan had a good year, resulting in increased market value and allowing the city to lower its contributions, officials said.

As insurance and retirement contributions decrease, the city plans to increase some job openings. The budget calls for three more positions in the police department and 11 more in the fire department.

The fire positions are for the city’s new fire station, which is slated to open within the year, Deputy Chief Ross Moulton said.

The budget includes about six months of salary for the new positions -- which will include engineers and firefighters -- so employees can be trained in advance, Moulton said.

“It’s going to increase our man power,” he said. “It will give us more man power for the daily activity at the station and fire scenes and also allow us to reach a farther area.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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