With the first paycheck in October, Georgetown city employees may receive a raise, said council member David Lusby.
The pay increase must first be approved by the council, but Lusby said he would present the proposal at the next council meeting on behalf of the finance committee. The proposal would give a $5,000 annual pay increase to first responders and a three percent to other employees.
The move can be a complicated one, as it will require amending the 2020-21 budget passed last June, as well as an ordinance to amend the salary schedules should be the raises push an employee above their designated pay level. Lusby promised to have more details about the raise proposal at the next council meeting.
Lusby’s raise proposal came amidst his presentation for a 911 fee that would be applied to bills issued through the Georgetown Municipal Water & Sewer System (GMWSS). The 911 fee would be implemented in three tiers: $6 for the first year, $7 for the second year and $8 for the third and ongoing years. The fee would go into effect in December in order to begin showing up in the January invoices. The fees would only appear on bills for city residents. GMWSS would be paid seven percent to administer the fee billing.
An early estimate is the fee would affect some 13,461 GMWSS customers and would generate about $500,000 over the remainder of this fiscal year which end in June 2021. By law, the entire amount of revenue generated by the 911 fee would have to be used for 911 Dispatch, but a recent renovation of the radio system cost the city and county a combined $15 million. The system is new so it is under warranty, but in four years there will be a $250,000 maintenance fee required to keep the system upgraded and functional.
The city manages 911 Dispatch in the inter-local with Scott County Fiscal Court. In other words, the city makes the management decisions and payroll is run through the city. Some $700,000 is budgeted in the city’s general fund for dispatch, so the funds generated by the 911 fee would free that general fund revenue.
The finance committee’s raise proposal would take that revenue and use it towards the employee wage increases. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky voluntarily reduced its incentive package this year by $1 million to help the city manage its cash flow due to the pandemic. That savings was included in the city’s 2020-21 budget, but apparently the reduction was greater than expected by about $250,000, so the finance committee pulled that into the wage increase package, as well. That would leave a deficit of about $20,600, which would be covered by the CARES Act, Lusby said.
The deficit is created because the raises would go into effect in October, but the 911 fee revenue would not start until January.
Each council member voiced support for the actions, although there were some obvious fractures. A study by the city earlier this year comparing Georgetown to 18 peer cities showed the city’s average salary for police officers is $8,600 less and the fire department salaries were some $11,000 less.
Council member Polly Singer-Early pushed for the wage increases to immediately equal the $8,600 for police and $11,000 for fire, but Lusby said the city did not have the revenue for such an action now. The finance committee promised the October raise would be the first step, and the city would make up the remainder as soon as possible
“Given all the circumstances, I think this is a very big first step,” Lusby said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there due to the pandemic. I think this sends a strong and positive message that we support our police, fire and 911 Dispatch. We enforce the law in Georgetown.”
Singer-Early suggested the city either take out a bond against the business park or use the funds from the sale of Cardome in order to pay the first responders.
“The problem with a bond, which is a loan, is you have to pay it back,” Lusby said.
Mayor Tom Prather said Cardome was purchased with a gift from TMMK and at the time Toyota asked that the funds be used for a community project and not for general fund expenses. The funds from the sale of Cardome are being used for the upkeep of Yuko-En on the Elkhorn, the Japanese garden adjacent to Cardome.
“In order to appropriately fund raises, we have to have a sustainable revenue source,” Prather said. “Using one-time money for recurring costs, such as salaries, is irresponsible.”
Council member Karen Tingle-Sames said she supported the 911 fee, “if all of the money would be used for the raises.” She also challenged the council to go through the budget and find other places to cut in order to meet the remainder of the salary increases needed.
“There’s always places to cut in a budget,” she said.
Some 67 percent of the city’s budget is for public safety, most of much is for salaries.
Both Police Chief Michael Bosse and Fire Chief Eric Colson said their staffs would appreciate the raise, but added it had to just be a first step.
“Don’t lose focus of the big picture,” Colson told the council members.
“It’s not going to solve the problem,” Bosse said about the raise proposal. “My department will continue to do its job, but all we are asking for is to meet the average. I think we deserve more than that, but all we’re asking is to meet the average.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.