Compromise On Raises Saves $100,000

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When the vote came, Councilor Dick Reese's lone voice was raised against Town Manager Fred Carpenter's proposed compromise on town staff raises.

While most members of the council expressed their reluctant acceptance of the compromise in the interest of community harmony, Reese chided Carpenter during a debate on the issue.

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Councilor Dick Reese

"What we're trying to do is come to a consensus and get this to all settle down and go away, is that about it?" Reese asked Carpenter.

"Actually, I'd like to get peace in the valley, Councilman Reese, and that's the only thing I stand to gain by this entire exercise," Carpenter responded.

"Peace in the valley is a good idea, but to compromise a commitment we made a year ago since we have the money is tough for me to swallow right now," Reese said.

The issue of staff pay raises to market resurfaced when three councilors, Robert Henley, Tim Fruth and George Barriger, challenged a market study they believed to be skewed in favor of higher increases.

"There's a lot of people who deserve raises, and I would suggest there's a lot of people at the lower end of the pay scale who deserve more than what they're getting," Fruth said. "It's OK if the data bears out the information, but I'm concerned that we do these analyses in-house when they need to be done by a person who is not impacted by the data."

Reese's argument was echoed by several councilors, but they all agreed to support the compromise anyway. Vice Mayor Buettner reproached Henley and Fruth for waiting until the last minute to revisit an issue that the council had agreed upon a year ago -- to bring the staff to market in two stages.

"It is unfortunate this reached the volatility that it has," Buettner said. "I think these concerns should have been addressed months ago, but having said that, I will support (Carpenter's) suggestion as a compromise."

The compromise calls for a maximum increase of $400 per month.

"Of the 62 employees who did not reach the salary levels recommended in the 2004 market study, 33 would ‘make market' with less than the $400 increase," Carpenter told the council.

Under the compromise, the two town employees losing the most are Parks Director Bill Schwind, who will make $79,932 instead of $88,140 and Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who will make $100,656 instead of $107,832.

Mayor Barbara Brewer said feedback has been minimal, but one person did tell her the staff is not happy.

"I had one person tell me the whole staff was really angry because we promised (the raises)," the mayor said. "Well, we have to find what works to bring harmony back in our council and for the community."

The compromise will save the town about $100,000. Carpenter proposed allocating $25,000 of the savings to nonprofit organizations, $60,000 to help build a reserve for street improvements, and $16,500 for an independent salary market study conducted by an outside consultant.

Henley said such a study will be "money well spent."

"This has been a difficult issue and divisive in our community, and I think this will hopefully allow us to move ahead," he said.

Immediately following the vote on Carpenter's compromise, the council unanimously approved an across-the-board cost-of-living increase of 2.9 percent for the entire town staff.

Four-year term for mayor

The council also voted unanimously to put the question of extending the term of mayor from two to four years before the voters, an idea Brewer likes.

"I think it's important to do a four-year term because it saves a lot of time and taxpayer dollars," she said. "If you take somebody who runs as a new person, it takes a certain amount of time to get up to speed, and that could be six months to a year. For a council member (who is elected mayor), it's three to six months."

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