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Board rejects all pay raises in budget deal

Brookhaven leaders reluctantly came to an agreement on the2009-10 budget Thursday night, with many officials expressingwishes that things had been different.

“I don’t think any of us are happy,” said Mayor Les Bumgarner.”Most of us are just glad it’s over.”

City Clerk Mike Jinks said based on last-minute shuffling ofbudget numbers, a final budget amount will not be available untilTuesday at the latest. Earlier discussions had it in the range of a$9.8 million, with a $3 million budget for water and sewer, and$1.4 figured in for solid waste.

But that was before the proposed 3 percent raises wereremoved.

The board agreed not to raise city employee salaries for atleast a little while, but to monitor the situation month to monthduring the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. If the city startsto show a significant surplus, the issue of raises will berevisited.

The resolution on the raises passed 4-3 with Ward Three AldermanMary Wilson, Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates, and Ward One AldermanDorsey Cameron against it. The budget then passed 5-2, with Batesand Wilson opposed.

“Everyone’s not going to get everything they want in thisbudget, and if you come in here just deadset on something – if allseven of you come in here deadset – nobody has the right to bedeadset, you have to have an open mind,” Bumgarner said. “There hasto be some give and take. … I’m not saying give up your feelings,but when something good comes along even when it’s not exactly whatyou want, recognize it and approve it.”

Cameron said this is the first year out of his 12 in office thathe can remember not giving raises.

“I’ve had so many employees with the city that have called andsaid they really need a raise, but I know that doesn’t changethings for the financial crunch we’re in,” he said. “And I knowthey’re going to think a lot less of us as a board when we makethis decision if we didn’t give a raise. Like any job, at the endof the year you feel like you’ve done something to be rewarded …it may not happen all the time, but you hope for it.”

Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan made a point to say that shewanted the issue of raises revisited, not only for the public’ssake, but to keep the board accountable as well.

“I’d just love to see the employees get a raise, there’s nothingmore I’d love than that,” she said. “If you ask for my feelings, Isurely would like to give them a raise … not elected officials,but the employees.”

Wilson and Bates both said if the city does not issue raisesnow, then there is no reason to revisit the issue. Bates said hedidn’t see how a 2 percent raise would hurt the city, and said thatif lawmakers wait to give a raise, it would be too close to thenext budget period.

“If you think the press and the citizens are on you now, go backand revisit this in six months. I’d rather ride it out and let itstay like is until the next year and leave it alone,” Batessaid.

Wilson said she didn’t understand why raises had to be based onsales tax revenue.

“I don’t see how some of you can sit around this board and sayyou’re doing the best thing for the citizens and workers of thiscity if we’re not giving a raise,” she said. “There’s plenty enoughmoney in this city to give a raise.”

When Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell made the motion to give noraises, move the city attorney to a salary instead of a retainer,and reduce the number of new police cars to two instead of four, hesaid he wants to see the raise issue revisited by December. Themotion died on the floor the first time he made it, as there was nosecond.

The board discussed it further and Maxwell made the motionagain, this time seconded by Cameron, who ended up voting againstit.

“Just needed to get it out there,” Cameron said.

Ward Six Alderman David Phillips said the safest plan was towait about six months to see what the economy is going to do.Bumgarner said it’s better to be prudent on the front end than tobe stuck in a situation where the city is having to make cuts downthe line because they don’t have enough money to pay theirworkers.

Bumgarner also told the board that theirs is a tough position tobe in.

“You’re the only seven people in the city that have to weigh theemployees and the taxpayers and make them both happy, and that’s atough job. When economic times are good, everyone’s happy, butright now they’re scary,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone in herethat doesn’t want to give the employees a raise, but I think mostof them understand the problem we have, I really do.”