Last month the mayor, municipal clerk and Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson presented a balanced budget to the New Albany Board of Aldermen.
The budget included a three-percent pay raise for all city employees.
After a public hearing and subsequent meeting, Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston, Ward Four Alderman Will Tucker and Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee decided they would not support that pay increase.
Ward Two Alderman Anderson and Ward Three Alderman Kevin Dale White did support the full raise.
1.5% raises compromise
With those opposing the three-percent raise being a majority, the board compromised with a 1.5% raise instead.
Perhaps Conlee, Livingston and Tucker considered this to be good stewardship of city funds. Another argument was that it would be incautious to give a larger raise during a pandemic with reduced income.
We argue conversely, that this was a time when city employees needed the raise more than ever.
Whatever the reason, this decision was neither in the best interest of city residents or of city workers.
It sends a message that city employees are not respected or valued by the governing board.
They are, or should be, valued by the citizens of New Albany.
City employees perform necessary, and sometimes critical, jobs, often in dangerous, unpleasant situations and during extreme hours. Without their work our lives would be much less pleasant and sometimes very difficult.
What kind of work are we paying for?
Would Conlee, Livingston or Tucker be willing to get in a bucket truck in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm to work on a 25,000-volt power line 30 feet above the ground?
Would Conlee, Livingston and Tucker want to wade into a drunken family fight where some of the participants are armed?
Would they or any of you be eager to perform life-saving measures on patients with COVID-19 or other communicable diseases?
Would they or any of us be willing to walk into a fully-involved house fire?
Would Conlee, Livingston and Tucker be willing to hang off the back of a garbage truck for hours at a time in the hottest part of the summer or dead of winter, hustling to load smelly garbage?
No, not they or most of the rest of us.
Granted, some city jobs are less difficult or dangerous than others, but that does not diminish their value or importance.
What if we had a requirement that aldermen actually spend time with various department workers after being elected, so they have a more realistic idea of what is involved? Perhaps that would give them an improved perspective.
2020 is not the year to change the game plan
Our city employees are not highly paid. One estimate was that the range for most is $20,000 to $30,000 a year.
Traditionally, the city has given three-percent raises most years as a form of cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). That cost varies from year to year. Even if it were not exactly three percent this year, Mayor Tim Kent said the city has failed to keep up with the cumulative cost of living increase over the past 15 years.(Union County employees typically get raises of $50 per month for the same purpose and are getting that amount next year).
In the past, the city sometimes has given three-percent raises even when sales tax revenue grew only 1.5 percent (although there is more to the financial situation than just sales tax). This year sales tax grew by 4.5 percent, but city workers still are only getting 1.5% raises.
The city has good employees, but many of them are older. Raises – even small ones – during their last years’ of work help increase their retirement slightly and reward them for their service to the community.
Additionally, it is becoming more difficult to hire good new employees as older ones retire, so a reasonable approach to salary could help with better recruiting, as well.
First responders and other essential city workers have performed their jobs under the trying circumstances of a pandemic this year. If that pandemic had put the city in dire financial straits, the smaller raise would, perhaps, make sense. But that is simply not the case.
What options might be considered?
The City of New Albany has plenty of money in the bank. On top of that, New Albany is getting $180,000 in CARES COVID support funds, part of which could be used to make up the difference between 1.5% raises and three percent raises.
The aldermen did not include raises for elected city officials, including themselves, which is good. But it is also hardly the equivalent of falling on one’s sword, since the aldermen have other jobs as their primary incomes. City workers do not.
Ultimately, the budget is just a budget. It can be amended any time. The board can still approve the full raise or, alternately, make up the difference in a one-time bonus.
The aldermen should rethink this. Mayor Kent said about $60,000 is the amount needed to increase the raises from 1.5 to three percent.
Sixty thousand dollars is only about 0.008, or a minuscule eight-tenths of a percent, of the general budget. Tourism funds and New Albany Lights, Gas, and Water (NALGW) funds are in separate budgets. If one includes tourism and NALGW revenue, the percentage of the raise is smaller still.
We have good, sometimes underappreciated, city workers who perform their tasks well, help make our lives better and our community an outstanding place to live. Surely they are worth at least a measly 0.8 percent more of the budget. The board should give them the full three-percent.
Don’t expect the best of people if you don’t respect them and treat them well.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The pay raise for New Albany city employees has been hotly debated within the Board of Aldermen. However, as with many discussions about city business, those heated arguments, including an impassioned one Tuesday Oct. 6, were conducted behind closed doors in “executive session.”
Mississippi law allows public boards to discuss a wide range of subjects in these executive sessions, from which the public, including news reporters, are excluded. We do not chastise the New Albany Board for doing business in this manner. State law allows it.
However, conducting deliberations in secret sessions often makes it impossible to tell “who is on first.”
For that reason, we circulated a copy of this article to all five aldermen, the mayor, the city clerk, and the city attorney more than 30 hours before it was published. We asked each of them to notify us of any errors of fact.
We heard from several of them during the day Wednesday confirming the facts are as stated. Then, last night we received a courteous email from Ward Four Alderman Will Tucker in which he disagreed with some of the statistics in this story. We thank Alderman Tucker for professionally addressing those statistical issues. We will work with city hall to resolve the stats as soon as possible.
We are told that Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston posted something on social media which attacks this story, but she did not address it to NEMISS.NEWS. As in all our news reporting, NEMISS.NEWS never EVER relies on anything posted on social media as a source of information.
We stand unequivocally by our position that nothing we have heard is a sound reason for denying the three-percent raise to city workers.
More on City of New Albany financial status: http://www.nemiss.news/mayor-provides-city-update/CARES money, New Albany Board of Aldermen, New Albany MS, Northeast MS news, raises