Archive for Thursday, December 18, 2003

City council takes up pay raises

Discussion centers on merit , cost-of-living increases for 2004

December 18, 2003

Some Tonganoxie City Council members are concerned about giving salary increases to city employees for 2004.

But a recent study that City Administrator Shane Krull conducted of area communities showed that Tonganoxie's salaries ranked among the lowest in 11 of 19 employment positions.

Krull surveyed Baldwin, Basehor, Bonner Springs, De Soto, Eudora, Gardner, Lansing, Spring Hill and Louisburg for the report. The city administrator said he chose the cities because they lie along the Kansas City metro boundary and all face similar pressures as they respond to growing populations.

Krull explained the survey during a special meeting of the city council on Thursday. Members wanted to discuss salary increases for city employees because some members were not in favor of a 4 percent salary increase that Krull had proposed in the 2004 budget.

That 4 percent would have meant 2 percent for cost-of-living adjustments and 2 percent for merit increases.

Council member Velda Roberts doesn't support the proposal.

"We should not include a total of 4 percent," Roberts said. "I've not backed that form at all because we are in a down economy."

A cost-of-living adjustment is based on a percentage of an employee's salary.

Council member Ron Cranor suggested taking all money earmarked for cost-of-living increases and dividing it equally among all employees.

Krull said that defeated the purpose of having different levels of employees within the city's workforce.

Splitting the pool

But Cranor said, "I have no problem with 2 percent cost-of-living. However, I have never felt the increase in salaries was a fair basis to the lowest member on the team.

"The person who needs the money the most is usually on the lowest level."

For example, 2 percent of a $18,000 salary is $360, while 2 percent of a $50,000 salary is $1,000.

Cranor said he was equally concerned about wages for police officers -- and, in particular, part-time officials -- because the risk involved with the job has increased.

"We're lucky at the moment," said Cranor, a former Kansas Highway Patrol officer and Leavenworth County undersheriff. "But with the increasing growth we're having, we're having more chances for violence. It's a changed world in the last 20 years."

Part-time Tonganoxie police officers earn $10.20 per hour. Only four other cities had part-time officers, but all paid $11 or more. Spring Hill had the highest wage at $12.33, while Basehor ($11.27), Louisburg ($11.05) and Eudora ($11) responded to Krull's survey. Spring Hill officers could earn a maximum of $18.50, while Louisburg had a cap of $13.05.

Krull said the city did not have difficulty hiring or retaining part-time officers and he wasn't in favor of increasing the wage scale.

Council members discussed the law enforcement issue at length, but eventually returned to the overall 4 percent increase.

It's like school

Council member Emmett Wetta said the wage increase, including merit, should increase each year based on an employee's performance -- much like the school system.

"It's like grades," Wetta said. "You either flunk and stay back or pass and move on."

Wetta implements the concept with his restaurant, but fellow council member Steve Gumm said the rules change when the government is involved.

"With you, you don't have a certain budget," Gumm said in regard to wages. "Here, you're at the will of the council."

Some council members said they did not favor merit pay increases, but Krull said it was necessary.

"If you take merit out of the equation you never move," Krull said.

Before the open meeting, members conducted a closed-door session regarding two non-elected persons.

Roberts also wanted to discuss general salary issues, but assistant city administrator Kathy Bard said that would be an illegal topic for executive session.

In the League of Kansas Municipalities Kansas Open Meetings Manual, a reference to the Kansas Open Meetings Act states: "The question of whether to establish a citywide payplan is a general personnel issue and may not be discussed in executive session. However, the evaluation of a particular employee does fall within the exception and executive session should be used to discuss the issue."

Council members cannot legally take action at a study session. Any action on city employees' pay raises would have to come at a regular council meeting.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the issue was not on the agenda for the council's next regular meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers, 321 Delaware.

Discussion of how planning commission items should be brought to the council also was on the special meeting agenda, but the council did not have time to discuss the topic.

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