After about a hour of discussion about whether to target pay raises to several troubled city departments, or allow a pay raise across the board, Graham’s city council voted to increase pay for all city workers by $2.00 per hour, effective February 27, the beginning of the city’s next pay period. The vote was unanimous among the four members of the council.
Mayor Jennifer Talley explained that she felt the city needed to deal with issues arising from vacancies in three departments: police, public works, and at the city’s water and sewer plant.
Up for consideration was a $2.00 per hour raise.
The question debated by council members, with input from several of the city’s department heads, turned on whether the council should address those three departments that are having the highest turnover and vacancy rates or whether the increase should be across the board for all 140 city employees.
At various points in the discussion, mayor Jennifer Talley and councilman Bobby Chin seemed to favor a targeted approach, possibly putting off until budget season a broader response for all employees.
Chin said that some of the material furnished to city council members about “average salaries” in various department was “misleading” or “one-dimensional.”
Chin wanted to know what the “entry-level” salaries were, inasmuch as city manager Megan Garner said the city was having trouble filling various vacancies.
Talley said the council needed to know “entry-level pay” for Burlington and Mebane police officers, for instance, since both cities recently raised their salaries for their police departments – Burlington December and Mebane earlier this month.
“We have to be competitive,” Talley said.
Councilman Joey Parsons agreed, “We need to adjust our pay to be more competitive.”
As discussion fluctuated between targeted increases for the three departments versus across-the-board raises, Garner said selective department raises “might damage internal equity” among all employees.
Garner had obtained from Mebane, she said, a copy of that city’s pay study, which was recently used by that city’s council to increase pay for 61 percent of its employees.
Garner said of Graham employees, “We’re significantly leaner than our peer groups.” Graham was one of the comparison cities used in the Mebane pay study.
Garner told the council that the city has $308,000 in “lapsed salaries” for the fiscal year, and emphasized that the across-the-board option could be financed for the remainder of the fiscal year – i.e., through June 30 – with $179,000 of that amount.
Various department heads – Lorrie Andrews, the personnel director, Tommy Cole, the fire chief, and Brian Faucette, the recreation director – urged the council to include all Graham employees.
While Chin had initially seemed to favor a targeted approach, after hearing department heads’ arguments, he concluded, “The money’s there.”
Chin suggested there was a difference between raising pay that would cause taxpayers’ taxes to go up, versus spending money that was already in the budget and unused. He also termed the idea of across-the-board raises “just an interim fix.”
Ultimately, Talley made the motion to increase pay for all city employees by $2.00 per hour, and accepted Garner’s suggestion to make that effective for the next pay period that starts February 27.
The vote was unanimous, 4-0.
Bonnie Whitaker, who has been designated by the council members to fill their fifth seat, was present in the audience, but did not take part in the discussion or deliberations. She is to be sworn in on March 8.
Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the Graham pay raise, “Money, money, money – for everyone but the taxpayer”: https://alamancenews.com/money-money-money-for-everyone-but-the-taxpayer/