Buckhannon City Council looks at employee pay raises

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Councilman Dave Thomas discusses the City of Buckhannon’s proposed 2019-2020 fiscal year budget at a meeting Wednesday at Buckhannon City Hall. Council is expected to vote on the budget at its March 21 meeting

BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon is exploring merit-based pay raises for its employees in the next fiscal year budget.

Director of finance and administration Amberle Jenkins said, “I think this is the year we really need to give pay raises. Most of our employees have gone two years without any kind of pay raise.”

There have been raises for certifications or promotions in ranks and the water board recently raised the salaries of its water plant operators to retain them.

“There are still 47 of 85 employees who haven’t had pay raises for either two, three or four years,” Jenkins said.

A recent employee satisfaction survey showed that overall employees are satisfied with the city but were concerned about salaries and health benefits.

Jenkins proposed council allow a pool of money for each department for an average of $1 per hour per employee. The supervisors in each department would be given discretion to base the pay increase on performance evaluations. The proposal calls for a minimum of 25 cents an hour and a cap of $1.50 per hour. Pay raises would not go into effect until Dec. 1, 2019 and would cost about $48,000.

Councilman C.J. Rylands asked if the proposal would balance employees who are at comparable levels in the various city departments.

Director of public works Jerry Arnold replied, “It will help, C.J., but I think I have mentioned in the past general fund employees typically are paid less than enterprise fund employees. It’s hard to go back and get everyone on an even keel across the board. We did an awful lot over the past couple of years to narrow the gap and I think what Amby is proposing will do even more to help narrow that gap somewhat.”

Jenkins noted that council’s approval of the general fund budget sets the tone for the enterprise fund budgets. Because water and sanitary plant operators received large pay increases recently between $2 and $8 an hour, Jenkins said she would ask the enterprise boards to exclude those employees from a pay increase in December to try to narrow the gap between distribution and plant.

The raises would be for full-time employees and the one part-time police officer. Jenkins said council would have to consider if they wanted the city attorney position to receive that pay increase as well.

Fire chief J.B. Kimble said, “I’ve always been a big advocate for merit based raises.”

Arnold said for him, dependability is something he really looks at in his employees.

“I have always used the analogy that you can have the most skilled worker available but if he doesn’t show up, he does you no good,” he said. “This gives an opportunity to show people that we do appreciate going above and beyond.”

City recorder Colin Reger said he supported empowering the supervisors to make recommendations on merit-based raises.

Rylands asked about the public safety fee.

Jenkins said she didn’t consider any revenues from the fee past February 2020 in the next fiscal year budget. The fee brings in $13,000 a month and the payment for the building ends February 2020.

Mayor David McCauley said, “Council may think about a public safety complex maintenance fee; it wouldn’t be $3 a month.”

Rylands suggested a public safety fee.

McCauley said, “You have a police fee and a fire fee already but you could allocate additional funds.”

Councilman Robbie Skinner said, “We definitely need maintenance. The building is not going to last forever without a new roof, new doors and new lighting.”

Skinner said that about half of the lights do not work. New LED lights are something the fire department has asked for and Jenkins thinks that should be a city-wide project to convert other buildings to LED lights.

Jenkins also shared that an additional $42,000 from higher valuations she received from the county, $24,000 volunteer center grant and $6, 000 in contributions for body cams for the Buckhannon Police Department had been added in to bring the proposed budget to $4,524,908. The fiscal year 2018-2019 budget totaled $4,626,764.

Jenkins said she estimated the balance coming into the new fiscal year at $650,000 as she did for the prior year.

The actual balance ended up being $656,000 and Jenkins said she hopes the city is not that close this year.

Jenkins also said she has $62,952 to be put into council consideration and shared some items that may want to be considered by council once they are in the next fiscal year. Short-term items totaling roughly $118,500 include GIS mapping and software, foundation and door repair at city hall, surveillance cameras for police and street department use, lockers at the fire department, LED lights at the fire department, a new side-by-side for street department, additional street projects, an additional employee at Stockert Youth and Community Center, and contributions to Festival Fridays and the West Virginia Strawberry Festival.

Director Debora Brockleman had asked for an additional full-time employee at SYCC and Jenkins said that is estimated to cost $40,210.

Jenkins also suggested the capital project at SYCC could be considered for some of that contingency fund.

Just like at the previous budget meeting, Jenkins said the proposed budget does not include any expected revenues from the city’s sales tax. A bill to allow the City of Buckhannon to start collecting the 1 percent sales and use tax July 1, 2019 died in the House of Delegates. This will cost the city about $500,000 in revenue before it can begin collecting Jan. 1, 2020.

“At this time, we are going to expect to receive our first input from that April 2020,” she said. “That will be for January and February. We expect that will be the leanest we will receive.”

McCauley said, “The city will kick the can down the road for another six months and things will be fine but it puts a crimp in our plan. No question.”

The final avenue the City of Buckhannon has to be able to start imposing the sales tax before Jan. 1, 2020 is for the state tax commissioner to change their ruling.

Even waiting to September or October 2019 — after the 180-day requirement that the state tax commissioner imposes — would help substantially, according to McCauley. The sales tax is expected to bring in about $1 million each year.

“It’s almost $100,000 a month for every month that we can’t collect it,” McCauley said.

Jenkins asked council to review the documents and consider the budget for approval at its March 21 meeting. The budget must be submitted to the state by the end of the month.