Columbus debates employee salary increase

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Draft budget includes 4-percent salary increase
Columbus Town Council debated during a budget workshop held Tuesday, June 12 how much of a raise to give town employees, with the majority of council deciding on four percent.
All council members praised the town’s staff, mentioning how much money the employees have saved the town. They said after not receiving a salary increase for the past four years, employees deserve a raise.
Councilwoman Ernie Kan was the only member who said she preferred a two-percent increase but also said Columbus employees do a wonderful job and do deserve an increase. Kan said she’s looked at other local governments that are giving increases next year; Spartanburg and Saluda are giving two-percent increases and Polk County is giving a 2.5-percent increase.
Kan said Columbus gave bonuses and had no cutbacks, as well as getting employees better insurance this year.
“I can’t see giving 4 percent,” Kan said. “We have some surpluses, yes, but two years ago we talked about trying to build up surplus and getting rid of some of our debt.”
But council members Margaret Metcalf, Ricky McCallister, Richard Hall and Mayor Eric McIntyre all said they feel employees deserve a 4-percent increase, which will cost the town approximately $27,000.
McIntyre said the town banked approximately $90,000 in fiscal year 2010-2011 then another $43,000 in savings is planned in 2011-2012. He also spoke of how much employees have saved the town in taking initiatives, such as discovering and fixing an issue with Morgan Chapel fire hydrants recently.
“Our employees have saved us a tremendous amount of money by doing jobs themselves,” McIntyre said. “We need to look at the whole picture.”
McCallister said the cost of living has increased 9.5 percent over the last few years and four years without an increase is a long time.
“They do an excellent job and they all work hard,” McCallister said. “You’d have to work hard to convince me they don’t deserve a 4-percent raise. It cost them a lot of money to stay here. They could make a lot more money somewhere else.”
Metcalf also said Columbus employees do an excellent job and agreed with the increase. She said it’s hard for people who work here, especially for young families to try to make a living and stay in Columbus.
“I don’t think we would be offering this if we couldn’t afford it,” Metcalf said. “I think as far as paying off things, we will do that, but I don’t think us giving employees a raise is going to hinder that.”
Kan said she is not trying to say Columbus employees aren’t doing a good job; she simply wants the town to be wise with its money. She said in giving an increase, it’s an increase the town will have forever. She said the people who live in Columbus are trying to raise their families too.
“I’m not saying they are not doing a good job,” Kan said. “I just don’t want to put a burden on people here that is not necessary.”
Columbus resident Susan Johann cautioned council, saying the town needs to be careful right now at a time when everything is going up in price. She said the surplus the town may have now could be totally gone in the future.
“We need fire hydrants (in the Beechwood development) and you keep promising them but we’ve heard that for six or seven years,” said Johann. “We don’t see that surplus going towards fire hydrants. A 2-percent raise seems fair to me.”
Columbus is currently working to install fire hydrants at Beechwood, with an estimate from an engineer coming in at approximately $280,000 for the project. The town is further investigating the project, with a hydraulic study scheduled to be done in November, when town manager Jonathan Kanipe says the town will know how to proceed. Part of the issue is the water line at Beechwood is a 2-inch line and fire service requires at least a 6-inch line, so the town will have to lay new pipe and reconnect customers in order to install fire hydrants.
Hall agreed with the majority of council, saying the employees are a big part of what makes Columbus great and he thinks they should be rewarded.
“They bend over backwards,” Hall said. “It’s the leadership that gives our citizens something to be proud of.  I think it’s time they deserve a little bit for what they’ve done. They tightened things up. They make things work. They made us money and I’m just so proud of the people that work for this town.”
Columbus’ new budget will include a one-cent tax increase for fire service as the Polk County Board of Commissioners has agreed to grant the request in order for the fire department to be fully staffed.
Columbus’ proposed budget does not include any property tax increases or rate increases for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The town’s general fund budget is proposed at $924,445 and its water/sewer fund is proposed at $1,097,800, including the salary increases. The tax rate is proposed to increase from 39 cents per $100 of property valuation to 40 cents per $100 of valuation, with five cents of that being for fire service including the increase.
Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the new budget on Thursday, June 21 at 7 p.m. and plans to adopt the new budget following the hearing.

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