10 percent raises are budgeted for first responders

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Selma City Council will vote on a $17.4 million budget Tuesday that includes a 10 percent raise for first responders.

If approved, the raises in the police and fire departments will cost the city approximately $528,000.

The council plans to pay for the increase this year by refinancing 2011 pension warrant, which would be a one-time savings of more than $600,000.

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The council promised first responders a raise by Oct. 1 after patrol officers walked off the job last month over salaries and other issues.

How sustainable the raises are was discussed a length during Thursday night’s work session.

City Treasurer Ronita Wade issued a memo to council members Wednesday advising against the raise.

“I understand that … the council voted for a public safety raise effective Oct. 1, 2016. However, providing any form of a public safety raise at this time would be fiscally irresponsible,” Wade wrote in the memo. “I have vigorously researched several options to make a public safety raise successful, but these attempts would cause the city of Selma to incur major budget deficits.”

After a meeting with council members Wednesday for a budget hearing, Wade amended the budget to include salary increased for first responders.

“I was asked to make the recommended changes,” Wade said during the following day’s work session.

In past years, a one-time bonus has been given to all city employees around Thanksgiving. Wade said whether that continues will be determined on how the one-half-cent sales tax fund looks at the end of this fiscal year, but that it’s possible.

Mayor George Evans said the one-time bonuses could have been done again for all employees.

“The one-time raises — we could have done that with ease. But because of this pressure and this desire to give our employees a 10 percent raise and public safety only … It has brought about some different dynamics,” Evans said. “I’m convinced at the end of the day we can get through it.”

Police Chief John Brock said the raises will mean a lot to his officers and put the starting salary over $30,000.

“It’s better. It’s close,” Brock said. “It’s better than a $1,600 one-time bonus. It’s a better deal.”

Councilman Greg Bjelke asked Wade for her thoughts on the revised budget, and she repeated the city needs to build a reserve fund and make sure to find  the revenue to make the raises sustainable.

“We have to have some cash reserve. That is vital to the city,” Wade said. “It’s important the incoming council seek new options for revenue streams … If we are going to give raises we have to make sure they are sustainable.”

Wade advised taking the savings from the bond refinancing and using that to create a reserve.

“As a municipality, we should maintain at least 10 percent of the total budget in a cash reserve. The city of Selma does not currently have a cash reserve and has not maintained a reserve in the past five years,” Wade wrote. “It is critical that we seek options to increase revenue and/or streamline the current budget in order to be self-sustaining for both the short term and long term.”

The rest of the proposed budget is similar to this year. Except for police and fire, most other departments had near level funding for 2017.

The total proposed budget for 2017 is $17,465,774, which is up $197,879 over the current year’s budget.

To create a balanced budget, Wade noted the following other factors in her memo to council members:

*$50,000 for all wards in grass cutting/beautification expense approved for the current budget was eliminated.

*$194,000 for the AmeriCorps program was eliminated.

*All non-essential departmental budget increases requested were denied.

*A $34,000 decrease in departmental fuel expenses was budgeted.

The biggest departmental difference is in Information Technology, which is up $58,095 due to a correction in the total cost of contracted equipment.

The next two largest increases are in grant matches, which is up $41,000 due to grant projects, including renovations at the Selma Interpretive Center, and code enforcement, which is up $30,500 due to a part-time officer that was left out of the 2016 budget and more money for demolishing condemned houses.