Some Warner Robins City Council members on Monday advocated for raising taxes in order to fix a problem with salaries that was identified in a pay scale study.
The council could have voted on its budget for the coming fiscal year, if members agreed to waive the second reading. But that would require a unanimous vote and it was clear in the pre-council meeting that wasn’t going to happen.
The issue was over recommendations of a pay scale study that will cost $1.6 million to implement. The proposed budget paid for that by borrowing it from the city’s reserve fund. No council members expressed disagreement with implementing the pay scale recommendations, but they did debate at length how to pay for it this year.
Council members Tim Thomas and Clifford Holmes argued that the budget as proposed doesn’t deal with the issue. They advocated raising taxes 1 mill to pay for the pay scale cost, which will be an ongoing cost increase each year.
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Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins also was for the tax increase.
“We are putting it off until next year,” Thomas said.
Thomas said a 1 mill increase would mean the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $80 more annually.
Council members Chuck Shaheen, Keith Lauritsen and Mike Davis wanted to approve the budget as is. Lauritsen said it made sense to wait and see how the city’s finances might be next year before making a decision on taxes.
“We are not at the point where we have to take some kind of drastic action this year,” Lauritsen said.
He added that in a few weeks the city expects to get back results of a utility rate study that he expects will recommend rate increases. He didn’t think the city should implement a tax increase and a utility rate increase in the same year.
Chief Financial Office Holly Gross said under the proposed budget, the city would still have enough in its reserve fund to operate the city for three months, which is the recommended amount. However, the city will not be able to borrow that amount next year and still meet that threshold, she said.
The pay scale study found employee moral is seriously impacted by the issue of an imbalance in salaries in which new employees in many cases make about the same thing as employees who have been doing the same job for several years. It called for annual step increases to fix the problem.
Mayor Randy Toms, who would vote in the event of a tie, did not weigh on the tax issue during the discussion. Asked afterward how he felt about it, he said “I guess we will find out at the next meeting if there is a 3-3 vote.”