One-time raises to be paid — maybe

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Selma City Council voted to fund one-time raises for city employees this year with one significant caveat — there has to be enough money to pay them.

In past years, the raises — effectively bonuses in everything but name — ranged from $1,600 for full-time employees with more than three years of experience to $200 for new employees.

In past years, the one-time raises have cost approximately $400,000 and have been paid around Christmas each year from a half-cent sales tax approved in 2013.

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The council discussed the cost and whether the city could afford the raises this year. The city’s first responders received a 10-percent raise last October. Excluding them, the total price tag would be about $250,000 for all city employees and another $99,000 for retirees.

“I know we have a financial crisis. We did receive that memo from the mayor, but I’m going to go on record with our employees,” Council President Corey Bowie said. “They work hard. We’ve rewarded them each year with this one-time raise.”

Councilman Sam Randolph agreed that employees deserved raises and said some employees make minimum wage.

“My heart goes out to those guys. I’m just looking out for the people at the bottom of the totem pole,” Randolph said.

Bowie, Carl Bowline, Susan Youngblood, Angela Benjamin, Randolph, Jannie Thomas and Michael Johnson voted for the raises pending funding.

Miah Jackson and Johnnie Leashore were absent.

Selma Mayor Darrio Melton sent a memo to the city council last week saying the city was in a financial crisis and needed to stop all non-emergency expenses.

The council voted to approve the raises “pending money is available.”

“If it’s not available, we don’t have to worry about giving them a raise,” Bowie said.

Youngblood asked if the city could move to a system of rewarding people based on longevity. Right now, a three-year employee is paid the same as one who has worked two decades, which she called “disheartening.”

“It would probably behoove us to do something along those lines and reward people based on years of service. It’s a reward for hanging in there,” Youngblood said.

Randolph also wanted to know who would decide whether the city had enough money to pay the raises.

Bowie answered by saying the council could work with the finance department, bring back city treasurer Ronita Wade from administrative leave or hire an accounting firm to make that determination.

The city has been working with Auburn University on job descriptions and step pay raises for every job in the city. Johnson said once that plan is implemented employees need to know that the one-time raises will be no more.

“We need to let them know once they get that check in so they won’t be expecting it next year,” Johnson said. “We need to make sure that if we are going to go by the pay plan Auburn is doing next year, we need to let them know that. Don’t expect this one-time pay raise. We make that clear.”

Melton said considering the raises shows how “far the council is out of touch.”

“They know the money is not there,” Melton said. “For them to mislead city employees and city retirees — it’s the same thing my grandma used to say growing up … you can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

Melton said he thought the decision was irresponsible but said it would ultimately be the council’s job to find the money to fund the pay raises.

“I’m disappointed in the representation the council is showing concerning the finances of this city,” Melton said. “We are spending money we don’t have.”

The mayor said the city needed to switch to performance-based raises instead of giving “raises for the sake of giving raises.”

“That’s what we have been working on. How can we set up a system where we can give raises based on performance,” Melton said.