Officials in Cape back pay raises

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The raises would be partly funded by increases in trash and sewer rates.

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

Cape Girardeau police officers and firefighters would receive nearly 12 percent pay raises on average in January while other city employees would receive nearly 8 percent pay raises on average under a new pay plan favored by the city council.

The pay raises will cost over $1 million, city manager Doug Leslie said. The city plans to fund the pay raises with fire sales tax money and by increasing trash and sewer rates in January.

With a standing room only crowd of more than 100 police officers, firefighters and employees from other departments in the city looking on, the council agreed at a study session Monday night to back the pay plan.

City officials said the plan is designed to make city salaries more competitive with those in similar-sized cities such as Jefferson City. The council will look to formally approve the new pay plan when it amends the city budget next month.

Trash fees would climb by 3.7 percent and sewer fees by 2.3 percent. Mayor Jay Knudtson said after the meeting that even if voters hadn't approved a fire sales tax, some increase in sewer and trash fees likely would have been considered to boost employee pay.

City employees received no pay raises last year. But some employees have received 2.65 percent merit pay raises since the start of the new fiscal year July 1. Those raises are given on the anniversary dates of when employees were hired. Those who haven't yet hit their anniversary dates will receive that increase early next year in addition to the pay raises in the new pay plan.

City officials said at the meeting that development of a competitive pay plan couldn't have been considered if voters hadn't approved the quarter-cent fire sales tax in June.

Knudtson said the council's first objective, as promised to the voters, was to boost the pay of the city's police officers and firefighters.

But Councilman Charlie Herbst said he's glad that all municipal employees will be getting pay raises, not just police officers and firefighters.

The city's payroll currently totals $16.7 million a year.

Pay raises for 134 firefighters and police officers will cost the city an additional $605,829, which will be funded with fire sales tax money.

Some pay raises for police officers and firefighters would be substantially higher than the 11.8 percent average for that group.

Under the plan, a starting police officer's salary would increase from $24,044 to $29,546, a 22.8 percent increase. Salaries for starting firefighters would jump 27 percent, from $23,209 to $29,546.

Pay raises for another 177 municipal employees -- those in other city departments and public safety employees who aren't sworn officers -- will cost the city an additional $455,637. Those raises will have to be paid out of the city's general fund and other operating funds, city officials said.

The plan includes a first-year cap of $5,000 on any individual pay raise for police officers and firefighters and a $2,500 first-year cap on any individual pay raise for other city employees. Employees whose pay raises exceed the cap will get the rest of their salary increases in the following fiscal year, city officials said.

Implementing the pay plan, crafted with the help of a consulting firm at a cost of $29,500, is essential if the city is to recruit new employees, city officials said. Knudtson said low salaries have prevented the city from filling four police officer positions. "We had to correct that," he said.

Leslie said tight city finances in recent years and limited steps on the salary schedule have left city salaries lagging behind those of comparable cities.

"We were starting from a bad position and had a lot of catch-up to do," Leslie told the council. The new salary plan would increase the number of pay steps from 12 to 22, which will benefit longtime employees, city officials said.

Councilwoman Evelyn Boardman welcomed the proposed pay raises. "I just want to make sure we pay everyone as much as we can," she said.

335-6611, extension 123

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