City looks at employee salaries, benefits

During a special Buckhannon City Council meeting Thursday, officials discussed potential changes to employee salary and benefits, street department funds and a police department request.

Buckhannon city employees may be seeing a pay increase this year, along with an increased deductible on their medical insurance. No decisions were made during the special meeting.

Officials said that last year, city employee salaries went up by $700 per employee. They are reviewing their options for this year’s pay increases and have mentioned the possibility of $500, $600 or $700 annual increases to salaries, and considered the idea of a longevity bonus. They left the conversation with the plan of a $600 pay increase, but tabled the idea of a longevity bonus because there could be years the bonus would not be applicable. Council members feared that by offering the bonus, it would give employees the expectation they may always receive it.

All of the officials present appeared to agree that there was no interest in a percentage-style increase in salary. Officials said that once an increase like that trickles down the hierarchy of employees, the last ones in line always get a smaller portion, whereas the ones with the higher salaries usually get a larger raise. City treasurer Micheal Doss said he’d like to see a smaller gap in the pay of supervisors versus laborers.

“I kind of like the idea of supervisors not getting a pay increase, kind of lessening that gap between higher-paid individuals and lower-paid individuals,” Doss said.

Officials also discussed the possibility of larger pay increases to those who perform well on evaluations. Doss said there would still be a flat-rate increase, but those who performed “above and beyond” would receive an additional increase. Discretion in the matter would be given to department heads.

“I don’t think we’re ready to do that option now,” Councilman Dave Thomas, who was participating in the meeting by phone, said. “I don’t have a problem with performance-based merit increases, but you have to make sure that you have the performance-based merit system that’s in place.”

Thomas added that a performance-based increase was initiated in the past where department heads were allocated an amount or percentage to increase pay rates, but instead of choosing higher increases for top performers, they gave all employees the same flat increase. Thomas said it was kind of a “mockery” of the system.

On the topic of benefits, the current health insurance deductible for individuals is $250 and for families it’s $750, which city officials said was low in comparison to most other benefit packages.

The consideration discussed involves possibly increasing those deductibles to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families. The deductible increase would be an alternative to employees having to pay a premium. Thomas said that he agrees with an increase in the deductible, but would want to do more research before finalizing any figures.

In other financial business, Doss said the city is allocating $70,000 toward storm water projects.

He said street capital outlay is at $86,000, and street paving for next year is at $60,000. Doss said the city has about three years’ worth of coal tax dollars stored away. He estimates that by the end of the fiscal year, those funds will be $55,000 to $60,000. The city will be required to use the funds, and Doss said it would be used for paving and concrete work.

The council also considered a request from the city police. Doss said Police Chief Matt Gregory has submitted a request for cameras to be installed in six of nine police vehicles. Doss also said that the $30,000 it would take to install the cameras wasn’t in the budget.

Doss recommended that any action on the matter be put on hold, adding that the revenue projection for Buckhannon was $3,582,056, which leaves a positive money flow of about $149,000.

The Public Safety Complex project is still in need of completion, and Doss said it may require a $150,000 decision.

Officials are expecting to have the police force transferred over to the new Public Safety Complex by the end of 2013, and the money to purchase the cameras could further slow the progress of completion.

Pugh said he didn’t want to give up on the cameras. But with a growing city, he wanted to get the police department out of the basement and into their new location.

Mayor Kenneth Davidson said in the past, cameras had been installed in the police vehicles and were not used to full expectations. He said the equipment then was more of a hassle to use because of the need for video tapes, but digital technology of today would make the cameras more efficient and easier to use.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit for our police department,” Davidson said, adding that he also wanted to have the police department in the Public Safety Complex by Christmas.