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Sheridan, like the nation, is slowly recovering from the economic recession. Families and businesses as well as government have suffered. Sheridan revenues have been down for four years in a row by over one-third. Like the private sector, city hall has been forced to lay off employees.
Last Monday, the local city firefighters union appeared before the City Council to demand a 5 percent increase for some of its members. They raised the prospect of a lawsuit if the City Council did not comply. The City Council voted seven to zero to deny the demand.
As one Council member stated, “I’ll vote to give a raise when we can give everyone a raise.”
The principle is fairness for all of our employees, including the firefighters.
The city has had a wage scale freeze for four years — The Sheridan Press editorial on Sept. 18 incorrectly stated that non-firefighter city employees have received scale or merit increases since 2008. There have been no scale or merit increases at the city since 2008. Additionally, the Wyoming Legislature has restricted our supplemental funding, specifying that it is not to be used to hire additional employees, or to give pay raises. The principle is fiscal soundness.
In a recent Sheridan Press editorial the Council was faulted for standing on principle. It would be cheaper to just pay the money than risk litigation, according to the Press. Yet, if anyone should appreciate the importance of a principled stand, it should be the media. The press litigates with gusto to protect the principle of First Amendment freedom — and rightfully so.
At issue in any potential union litigation is whether government can be forced to hand out raises at a time when budgets are so tight that people have been laid off and positions eliminated. If the answer is affirmative, we are doomed to the same course that has bankrupted cities and states in other parts of the nation where elected officials have failed to take a timely, principled stand to reign in runaway wage and benefit costs.
The editorial asserts that city employees cannot understand the lack of raises while the city is able to fix streets, and repair or extend infrastructure or build amenities like pathways. The confusion is “rightfully so” says the editorial and seems to suggest those funds should be used for raises. That is not how government funding works.
Gas tax is collected to repair roads, and by law can be used only for that purpose. In the last eight years the city has raised water, sewer and garbage rates four times, each time pledging that the money would go to infrastructure. Grants from Cheyenne for infrastructure — including pathways — cannot be used to fund pay increases.
Surely, the editorial staff has covered enough government budget meetings to know this. If people are confused, perhaps the failure is on the part of The Sheridan Press for not clearly and consistently communicating that the city’s funding has restrictions, and properly so, that prevent using road and other infrastructure funds for pay raises.
Cutting road maintenance and infrastructure repair, and appropriating those funds to pay raises hardly seems like a principled approach to governance — nor would it be fair to taxpayers and ratepayers — yet, that is what the editorial suggests.
Having said all that, the City Council and I are grateful for the pay and benefits we are able to offer our employees. Even without annual raises, the city of Sheridan is an attractive employer. With each job opening we receive many applications, including 14 recently for the fire department.
Hoping for a brighter day, we are conducting a wage survey to assure that we can remain a competitive employer in all positions. Pay information is being gathered from other governments, as well as Sheridan private employers. As I stated in my budget address, if and when we get an upturn in revenues, addressing employee compensation is a high priority.
In Sheridan and at city hall, economic development is key. If we can get the cash registers ringing everybody wins. What is needed, now more than ever, is to set aside the sour, recriminatory tone of The Sheridan Press editorial, and focus on coming together as a community to build a more prosperous future.
Editor’s note: Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey points out that the Sept. 18 Press editorial incorrectly stated that other city staff have received merit or scale increases since 2008. This was due to a word being omitted from the editorial, the Sheridan Press regrets the Mistake.
However, The Press has learned from the treasurer’s department that the city has budgets for and has awarded “certification increases” or raises for city staff, primarily in the public works department, who earn additional certifications in their jobs. In addition, the mayor’s salary was increased from $24,000 to $48,000 at the beginning of 2014.