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Everyone could use a little extra money in their pockets these days. The cost of everything from milk to child care continues to rise while the size of paychecks seems to do nothing but shrink as employee contributions to pensions and health insurance rise.
You can’t blame the local firefighters union, Local 276, for asking what everyone else wishes they could have. A raise of 2 percent for that department isn’t much, $20,000 of the total city’s budget.
The city spent more money than that on lawyer fees — $40,000 — for the lawsuit filed by the Local 276 regarding a past contract and will likely spend that again on a new, similar lawsuit. Lawyers for the firefighters pointed to several sources of funding for the proposed raises within the city’s budget in ongoing arbitration, but the city’s representative attorney Greg Weiss dismissed those and cited several reasons for the city’s inability to provide pay increases.
One reason given was that the city’s priority is to restore positions lost during layoffs in the last few years. Weiss said restoring those position would cost at least $1 million.
City employees have not received cost of living or merit increases since 2008. While some employees have seen pay bumps due to acquiring additional training and certifications, most have not. Why wouldn’t the city’s priority be rewarding those employees who have so often have been praised for “doing more with less,” rather than adding additional people to the payroll.
Still, the tactic of the city is effective. Caution and patience are the key pieces of advice that seem to come from the administration.
In a state where fiscal conservancy is paramount and balanced budgets are required, nobody would ask the city to spend money it didn’t have.
Yet even at the state level, legislators and the governor are considering pay increases for those who work for the state. Gov. Matt Mead said he intends to utilize nearly $50 million for the increases for state employees and an additional $38.5 million from school funds for raises in the education system.
If times are improving to the point that city funds are available to roll over from prior budget years and even the state is acknowledging the need to provide raises to keep employees, perhaps it is time to prioritize at least a small pay increase for all city employees.