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City of Brookhaven workers could see raises

If the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen vote to adopt the nearly $13 million budget that is proposed, city employees could get a 2-percent raise and the community may finally see an animal shelter and a fire station built.

Aldermen held the first of four public hearings Tuesday night prior to the regular board meeting in the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex. They’ll meet again today at 5:30 p.m., Aug. 28 at 5:30 p.m. and Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. They are expected to adopt a budget Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Individuals are allowed to make recommendations and comments at that hearing.

City employees last received a pay increase in 2016 when weekly employees were given a 3-percent raise and those paid twice a month saw a 2-percent boost.

Mayor Joe Cox said they were able to work in the pay increases for the next fiscal year’s budget.

“That’s 2 percent and we’re still pretty good,” he said.

Two construction projects that are long overdue came up for discussion. City Clerk Samantha Melancon earmarked $150,000 in the budget for an animal shelter and $700,000 for a fire station.

Fire Station 2

About a year and a half ago, aldermen accepted a $625,000 state grant to replace Fire Station 2 on Willard Street. In July, a majority of the board voted to allow Cox to negotiate the purchase of land to become the firefighters’ new home.

The firehouse sits on the edge of Ward 1, directly adjacent to Ward 2, and serves the eastern portion of the city. The current station — a metal building constructed in the 1970s — has suffered a series of maintenance issues over the years. When the project was first proposed, Brookhaven Fire Chief Tony Weeks recommended that the new station be built larger than the existing facility. He said city fire trucks are barely able to fit into the current structure’s bays.

The grant amount is in the city’s general fund, drawing interest at a standard rate. The fire station is expected to cost $850,000.

Animal shelter

City engineer Mike McKenzie, a principal with WGK Inc., presented floor plans for an animal shelter to aldermen more than a year ago, and $100,000 is in the bank waiting to be spent on the project. However, the state department of health denied the use of a septic tank in the plans. The current shelter sits at the end of a dirt road that winds past piles of debris at the city dump. Two rows of dog runs, about 18 total, are covered with a sheet-metal roof.

The city planned to build the new shelter beside the transfer station at the landfill. The land backed up to a wooded area which would give it shade. But it also backed up to a ditch.

McKenzie said the issue with having kennels there is the wash-down water and the site is too close to a ditch.

Based on McKenzie’s preliminary plan, the shelter would cost about $150,000 including site preparation and construction. The final budget would depend on where the city builds it.

Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron asked if the city will have to buy property for the new animal shelter.

“We don’t think so,” Cox said. “We’re negotiating that right now. It is our property but there is a legal issue that we’re working out with the neighbors out there. We’ll see how that goes.”

Water and sewage is there.

“And obviously electricity is very nearby,” Cox said. “So it’s an ideal spot if we can just work it out.”

Promotion vs. raise

Weeks is requesting $60,000 for salary increases for 10 firefighters who will be eligible for promotions. Right now, the next jump in rank would bring a $13,000 increase in pay for anyone who qualified for the promotion. Weeks wants to add a tier that would give just a $6,000 increase.

Cox said Police Chief Kenneth Collins created a similar tier between sergeant and lieutenant. Officers can earn the rank of master sergeant.

Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice believes that giving firefighters a chance to earn a promotion quicker may keep qualified employees in the Brookhaven department rather than force them to go somewhere with higher pay.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Snider objected to firefighters receiving the across-the-board raises if they also qualify for a promotion.

“I know that it’s chump change, but if they get a promotion I don’t feel they should get a promotion and the 2-percent increase,” Snider said.

Grice disagreed with Snider’s logic.

“Well, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you because if they get a raise and then he comes in and promotes them anyway, what are you going to tell them, ‘No, you got a 2-percent raise?’” he said.

Cameron believes Snider’s plan wouldn’t be fair, but Snider contends the $6,000 bump because of the promotion is a significant enough raise.

Ward 6 Alderwoman Shelley Harrigill didn’t agree with Snider either. She said promotions for firefighters could come at any point in the year and the employees shouldn’t be penalized because of the timing.

Department heads submitted their requests to Melancon prior to the budget workshop meeting.

“I sat down with every one of them,” she told the board. “We put in what they wanted and it was, like, a lot. So I asked them what they wanted cut, that way they got to voluntarily cut what they wanted to. I think we got it down pretty good. Now you have to decide what you want to do with it.”