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Emmetsburg City Council Wrestles With Wages For FY 2009-10

By Staff | Jan 22, 2009

After cancelling the regularly scheduled City Council meeting Jan. 12, council representatives held two noon meetings last week Wednesday and Thursday. The agenda included 2009-10 wage proposals, which were discussed for much of the two hours the meetings were held.

In addition to a cost of living increase, council representatives looked into bringing the salaries of Emmetsburg Police Chief, Police Sergeant, and City Clerk in line with wages of similar positions in Iowa communities of the same size.

Initially, the council looked at a 3.5% cost of living increase to match the wage increase that union employees will receive at the beginning of the new fiscal year in July. The city is in its third year of a three-year bargaining contract with union employees. Councilmen Pat Degen, Steve Finer and Kory Gramowski favored the 3.5%, noting that the non-union employees deserve an equal cost of living adjustment.

Also initially under consideration were wage increases for: Emmetsburg Police Chief to bring his salary in line with Iowa Chiefs of Police in towns of similar size (current salary $43,010; proposed increase 6.75%); Police Sergeant, bringing his wage up to average (current salary $37,957; proposed increase 5.84%); and an increase in the City Clerk’s salary to bring her wage to the bottom step of the current City Clerk pay scale (current salary $36,276; proposed increase 6.19%). These positions would also receive a cost of living adjustment.

When the meeting was continued the next day, Mayor John Schad advised the council to step back and take a look at what is happening in the community.

“We have the opportunity to take the high road and set an example for our constituents,” said Schad. He proposed establishing a wage freeze for 2009 for non-union personnel, citing huge layoffs and people without jobs.

“We can hold it (salaries) where it is and set a good example for the city,” the mayor said.

Councilman Pat Degen gave the council a revised proposal of salary increases for the Police Chief, decreasing the proposed wage increase to 6.2%, which would be about one-third of the difference of the average; and City Clerk, moving it to a 6.4% increase, which would be about one-third of the difference of the average. He had also proposed a 2.9% increase for the Police Sergeant.

“I didn’t draw this up in lieu of a cost of living adjustment,” said Degen. “I’m still in favor of a 3.5% cost of living adjustment.”

Council representative Sandy Pelzer told fellow council members that she had talked to citizens in the community and, across the board, they were predominantly against raises.

“I’m coming in with a different opinion today,” she said.

Pelzer noted that the City Clerk’s salary had been adjusted when she took on increased responsibilities last year. She was not in favor of another pay increase for the City Clerk.

“The Police Chief’s salary is separate,” Pelzer said. “His salary does appear to be lower than average.”

Council representative Pam Smith noted that the cost of living has gone up. She pointed out that the city’s union employees are underpaid compared to similar positions in other communities, and she agreed that the Police Chief’s salary is low compared to other communities.

Councilman Gramowski suggested giving a $500 increase across the board per employee.

“I’d like to give everyone 6% raises, but there are some cold, hard facts out there that say that’s not a viable offer, whether it be the economy, the tax base, or employee performance,” said Councilman Brian Campbell. “These are things we have to consider.”

“I don’t think you’re going to hear any arguments,” added City Administrator John Bird. “The bigger issues are that the Police Chief is under paid and the City Clerk, compared to other City Clerk’s, is under paid and is already under the previously established pay scale. The fact is, John Q. Public is not going to understand that and I’m sensitive to that. If it is the consensus of the council that the raises not be given this year, then please keep it in mind for the future.”

Jill Kliegl, City Comptroller, told the council, “If I would have retired (from the position of City Clerk) and you had to hire a City Clerk that person would have come in under the City Clerk’s pay scale and adjusted up in three years. All our employees have a pay scale. When they are hired, they go into that pay scale”

The purpose of setting wages and cost of living adjustment is to plug those figures into the city’s 2009-10 budget. Councilman Steve Finer recommended plugging in a 3.5% cost of living adjustment with the idea that it may or may not stick.

“This will be contingent on an adequate budget,” said Finer. “This is not final until we have a budget.”

“We can put any figure in,” Kliegl told the council. She pointed out the wage proposal affects so many accounts it is better to put in an amount rather than not put one in.

“As long as the public knows what we’re doing,” Mayor Schad said.

Degen proposed going forward with increases to the Police Chief and City Clerk salaries, plus a 3.5% cost of living adjustment as well.

“Let’s plug it into the budget, look at it and go from there,” he said.