By CHAD ABSHIRE
WILLIAMSON - The Williamson City Council met Thursday and discussed the city’s budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The city has a total of $2,668,706 in its budget, but that figure does not represent an increase via grants that are in the budget that the city may or may not get.
Mayor Darrin McCormick said that the grants included are what the city “hopes to receive.”
“Revenues are flat, collections are troublesome, worrisome, expenses are up, like everyone else,” McCormick said.
He did say, however, “on a positive note,” that garbage collections have gone up. However, it was already anticipated as such. Other collections, besides garbage, are an issue, such as B&O and Hotel/Motel taxes.
The mayor said that he anticipates City Clerk Frances Frye and other department heads to pay visits to those businesses not paying taxes.
Unfortunately, McCormick told the council that the budget did not allow for pay increases for city employees. He noted the fact that since 2005, employees have only had one permanent raise and a one-time cost of living adjustment. The raise was a permanent three percent increase to wages, while the cost-of-living adjustments must be passed by the council each year, which is also a three percent increase to an employee’s base wage, delivered in a lump sum.
McCormick said that these are done when possible because of the lack of permanent raises.
“If you look at it, city employees make six percent more than they did in 2005,” McCormick said.
However, McCormick did say that increasing the pay of city employees is “a concern of the council to provide an adequate rate of pay for them to enjoy living here.”
“Being fiscally responsible, we cannot foresee any permanent wage adjustments.”
This, however, did not sit well with Councilwoman Sherri Brown.
“I understand that when the cost-of-living goes up, so do wages, normally,” Brown said. “They (city employees) have bills just like everyone else.”
She was primarily referring to the Williamson Police Department’s wages.
Regarding an increase to single departments within the city, McCormick said that he “would prefer, when talking of pay increases, to be across the board.”
Williamson Police Chief C.D. Rockel was present, and Brown asked him what wages his officers started out at. Rockel answered $18,000. She then asked Williamson Fire Chief Jerry Mounts, also present, what his firefighter’s wages began at: $22,000. Neither figure included overtime possibilities and both were rough estimates.
Mounts said that the city should have the figures, and Councilman Matthew Thornsbury asked for them. Frye said that they would be available for the council at the next meeting.
Rockel said that he feared that he might lose his newer officers due to competitive wages from other departments. He said that deputies begin at roughly $24,000, with holiday pay and the ability for overtime from grants.
He did say, however, that the council’s decision in allowing his officers to take their cruisers home with them “was a sort of raise,” in the sense that it resulted in less gas used.
“I want us to be competitive in wages,” Thornsbury said to Rockel.
“I would put our department’s work up there on par with the deputies’ or the state police,” Rockel said.
Despite the somewhat-heated discussion, McCormick did praise the WPD, saying that their increased presence, he feels, has resulted in a safer city and better feelings from the public.
When a motion was called for to pass the budget, Thornbury made the first motion, with a caveat: the ability to revise it, possibly looking for a way to grant raises to city employees. Brown seconded it. It was passed unanimously, with Councilwoman Connie Rockel abstaining.
However, Frye told the council that a budget revision would have to be approved by the state, just like the one they passed, and must be done so at a council meeting.
At the very end of the meeting, a concerned citizen said that he disagreed with the mayor’s thoughts about being unable to grant raises to city employees, especially the WPD.
“We have good officers and a decent chief,” the man said. “They deserve a raise.”
The man also said that the mayor could raise his property taxes if it could go to the WPD.
“You can check my bank account,” the man said, “and you’ll see that I have $1,400. I would gladly donate that to the police department.”
McCormick said that the earlier raises came from increased rates on water, garbage collection and ordinances for the fire and police departments, and echoed his earlier statement that it was not fiscally responsible at the time to give raises out. The mayor also said that it was his effort to not do rate increases because of the burden it places on those with low or fixed incomes.
While McCormick said that it was a concern of the council to increase the wages of city employees, he said that raising rates was not an option he was exploring.
“I will do everything I can to not raise rates,” McCormick said.