City leaders debate merit-based pay raises

by Alan Hodge

Mount Holly leaders are considering hiring three new firefighters, among other positions, as the city starts looking toward the 2011-12 fiscal budget.

Everything was up for discussion March 21, as city council and Mayor Brian Hough heard numbers on the city’s debt, personnel costs, salaries and more.

Leaders also received good news from Assistant City Manager Jamie Guffey regarding the new fire station. Mount Holly will only owe $76,300 in the coming fiscal year, compared to the $157,800 it paid this year.

Meanwhile, the overall city general fund debt for 2011-12 – $1,006,900 – is also down slightly from $1,045,700 for 2010-11, according to Guffey. Also, the utility fund debt for 2011-12 is set at $446,100, much lower than the $790,500 in 2010-11.

After debt discussions, the council took up the issue of personnel costs to the city, focused partially on merit raises for Mount Holly’s 123 full-time workers in 2010. The majority of those employees are eligible for some type of merit-based pay increase, though Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Breyare chafed at the idea.

“It causes conflict between the ranks,” she said. “I am totally against it.”

The council opted to set aside the merit money discussion and figure out an across-the-board percent-of-pay  stipend later in the budget process.

As for rewarding employee longevity, such as one employee who has been with the city for 32 years, leaders were split. Currently, Mount Holly employees cannot accrue money based on longevity.

“Once you implement something like this, it’s hard to take it away,” Hough said.

“Anybody that works for this city for 32 years deserves longevity pay,” Councilman Jerry Bishop added.

Once again, council members decided to delay an longevity pay decision – and whether to give a flat amount or base it on a percentage of the employee’s salary.

As for health insurance coverage for workers, city leaders got several funding formulas they could use in the coming budget year, taking into account that some towns are using health insurance to recruit employees.

“Lincolnton is paying 100 percent of insurance to attract employees,” Guffey, the assistant city manager, said. Guffey added that Mount Holly would have its first wellness program March 29 in an effort to keep city workers in better health.

As for bringing in new employees, three new firefighter jobs are on the list of potential new hires for 2011-12. The starting salary for each was set at $26,400 with benefits boosting it to $40,500 annually. Another new job, that of recycling coordinator, would have a base pay of $31,000 with benefits raising the city’s cost to $45,000.

Two utility technician jobs also are on the budget list. The jobs have a base pay of $29,120 or $40,650 with benefits.

The next 2011-12 budget meeting is set for April 18 at 6:30 p.m. Other meetings will take place May 9 and 16 with a public hearing and possible approval June 13.

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