WARNER ROBINS -- A 3 percent pay raise for all city employees has raised questions among some council members, while others see it as a no-brainer.
The question is: Why wouldnt you give it to them? said Mayor Chuck Shaheen, pointing to an easily balanced budget. I never thought itd be a political issue to award your employees with a pay scale increase.
The proposed $600,000 item is likely to be a major part of the first public discussion of the fiscal 2014 budget Monday, as at least two council members say the pay bump might be best as a one-time bonus instead of a reoccurring cost.
Once you give someone a raise, you have to plan to give that raise forever, said Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins.
A required public hearing will be held at 4 p.m. Monday in City Hall for the nearly $35.6 million general fund budget. The draft includes no tax increase or utility hikes.
Shaheen said its the first legitimate raise the employees could enjoy since hes taken office. The fiscal 2011 budget was weighed down by a previous debt, and no raises were given. The fiscal 2012 budget included a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment, but that was mostly canceled out to pay for a higher health insurance premium. For fiscal 2013, pay adjustments were given, but the increases were different for everyone. That measure was based on a Carl Vinson Institute of Government study. A 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment also was given, but only if the adjustment wasnt more than 1.5 percent.
The city of Warner Robins has managed its finances well. Weve generated revenue, weve cut our expenses, Shaheen said. We spoke with all the department heads, and they agreed to cut back on their budgets to award the employees.
Shaheen and Bill Harte, chief finance officer, said the citys finances are sound.
I dont know what next year is going to hold, Shaheen said. But today we can do it. Next year, if we can or cant do it, I have to address it next year.
But Robbins countered that the uncertainty of what next year brings is all the more reason not to commit to higher increases. Councilman Mike Brashear agreed.
Its not that Im not for giving the employees something, Robbins said. I know the economy is doing better, but were not there yet.
The two argued that aside from forever raising the salaries line item, the across-the-board raises could unfairly give a boost to already overpaid employees.
In the pay adjustment passed last year, some employees salaries were already higher than the maximum for their position, according to the salary study.
Those people, Brashear and Robbins said, would receive more of a pay raise than the lower paid employees because its a percentage.
Shaheen and Harte said the concern for the top paid employees isnt valid because those employees would likely still be above their maximum pay and ineligible for the raise.
Shaheen also mentioned the pay adjustment. Council insisted on passing the measure three months before the fiscal year began, against expert advice.
Robbins said that pay adjustment plus a 3 percent raise would total a nearly $2 million increase in salaries in just two years.
Instead of a pay raise, Robbins and Brashear favor one-time bonuses.
The people at the top get less (than they would with a COLA), and the people at the bottom would get more, Robbins said.
Brashear said he would be interested in merit raises, but those arent included in this years budget.
Nowhere do you find an industry that you give cost of living adjustments across the board, Brashear said. You give the merit raises.
Shaheen explained the merit process is antiquated, and hes working to update it. Until then, its unfair to use it.
Robbins also considered the pay raise insensitive to the Robins Air Force Base employees and others who have been furloughed in recent years. She said those furloughed people are the ones paying the taxes.
But city employees shouldnt be punished for the federal governments inability to balance their budget, Shaheen said. After all, the citys budget is sound, he added.
Councilman Daron Lee said if the mayor balanced the budget with the raise, it shouldnt be a problem.
I want our employees to enjoy working for the city, he said. I dont want them to be in debt. I dont want to make decisions where were saying as council, You better be glad you have a job.
Councilman Mike Daley did not respond to a message for comment. Councilman Mike Davis declined to comment.
Councilman Paul Shealy seemed torn and said he has more questions. He has considered the bonuses, he said.
The employees are going to come out better than they were one way or the other, Shealy said.
Council mostlypleased with budget
Other than the pay raise, council members said theyre mostly pleased with the budget. Here are some highlights.
The refunding of a risk manager ($48,210) may eventually become a contracted item, Brashear, Robbins and Shealy said. The position was unfunded a few years ago when then-Risk Manager Bryan Fobbus was promoted to human resources director. The risk manager would organize workers compensation, safety training and procedures.
An internal auditor ($35,000) may move to a different line item, so as to be clear an outsider will be hired, Shaheen, Shealy, Robbins and Brashear agreed. The auditor will review the citys procedures and processes.
None of the council members disagreed with a $27,500 vehicle for Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee, but they said it must only be used for city business.
A spokeswoman position council approved on a trial basis last year likely wont be discussed until later, council members said. Shaheen said it wasnt approved on a trial.
Funding for 11 positions are proposed in the fire department in preparation for a new fire station. Shaheen said he doesnt want to end up without bodies to man the new building, though it may not be online for about a year.
Funding for the mayors executive secretary still appears, though Faye Coulters employment with the city is in limbo. Coulter is on administrative leave while a lawsuit claiming she was pushed out is reviewed.
The city would transfer $50,000 less to the International City Golf Course than it has in the past few years. Shaheen and Harte said the course is supposed to be self-sufficient. The course would receive $100,000.
The city would transfer $30,000 -- $20,000 more than last year -- to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Shaheen said nothing prompted the increase, but it had been decreased for fiscal 2013 from fiscal 2012.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.