Columbus Mayor Robert Smith broke a 3-3 council tie Monday to rescind all previously approved pay raises for city employees, including his own. The proposed raises would have taken effect when the new budget year begins Oct. 1. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
August 19, 2014 10:44:26 AM
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith will not get a raise and neither will any other city employee.
During a budget workshop Monday, Smith broke a 3-3 council tie in favor of rescinding all proposed city employee raises -- including a $10,000 pay bump for himself -- for the upcoming fiscal year. The mayor, during an Aug. 6 budget workshop, had voted to give himself the raise, which would have bumped his salary to $88,797.
Monday's vote nullifies the council's previous approval of a 3 percent raise for every city employee. It knocks approximately $440,000 off a projected $540,504 deficit for the fiscal year.
Next year's budget, which the council is continuing to finalize, will go into effect Oct. 1.
Smith began the meeting by asking councilmen to rescind his raise, adding that it was his responsibility to look out for the best interests of the citizens, taxpayers and city employees. Councilman Gene Taylor made a motion to approve Smith's request. A second came from councilman Joseph Mickens.
Councilman Bill Gavin made a substitute motion to rescind all employee raises. That motion was seconded by councilman Charlie Box.
Gavin re-iterated a statement he made during the council's Aug. 6 meeting that he believed all city employees deserved raises, but he does not feel the city was financially in a position to do so at this time.
"We have over $400,000 in raises," Gavin said. "My question at the last meeting was where this money is going to come from. My answer was from the reserve. We have no plan put in place how we're going to fund the raises not only this year, next year or 10 years from now."
Councilman Kabir Karriem voted in support of Gavin and Box. More discussion was held before the rest of the vote was taken. Karriem said the city should not give raises if it means entering a deficit spending situation to do so.
"I especially feel that public works employees deserve a raise, but I don't feel this is the right time to do it," Karriem said. "Hopefully, we can come up with a game plan that we can later institute those raises."
Taylor, Mickens and councilman Marty Turner voted against it.
Before voting, Smith said he was also in favor of the raises, but due to the deficit the city faced, he felt supporting Gavin's motion was the best move.
Privatization 'not on deaf ears'
During the discussion regarding pay raises, Smith added that he'd recently spoke to a Columbus resident who asked about exploring the possibility of privatizing public works.
"We've heard the reports from (city project managing firm) J5 Broaddus concerning the public works department, so from the privatization standpoint, I want the citizens of the city of Columbus to know that it's not on deaf ears," Smith said. "All I'm asking for the council is to think about it and give us an opportunity until the end of the year to do an assessment and evaluation of the public works department. From there, if it's not working, then let's go out and discuss this issue with some of the companies that do privatization."
J5 Broaddus has overseen the city's public works department since April after the firm conducted a study finding a potential $1 million in waste.
'We're not heartless'
Councilmen also heard from representatives of 40 local organizations it appropriates money to each year. The proposed budget currently has $1,331,990 budgeted toward the organizations, nearly half of that going to the Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority.
That amount is subject to change, as councilmen opted to table approving the appropriation portion of the budget. They will revisit appropriations during another budget workshop Thursday at 4 p.m. in the City Hall courtroom.
After doing so, Box told organization representatives and city employees that working on each year's budget is a "gut-wrenching" process.
"I want the employees of the city to know that we're not heartless," Box said. "It's not because we don't care about you that we cut raises out. We want the city to be successful on into other administrations. The city is not broke, contrary to comments that have been made and the doom and gloom that has been put out.
"I might have been partly responsible perpetuating that by talking about getting into deficit spending," he added. "The mayor made some real good points in his letter Sunday (in The Dispatch) about how many new business have come in here. It's a really strong trend that's happening right now and something we haven't had in a long time."
The council also voted in favor of considering debt financing for several new vehicles and equipment for the fire, information technology, inspection and police departments as well as the city garage. That would cost about $174,480 in the upcoming fiscal year. Councilmen will further discuss the issue Thursday.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
2. Deputy shot, suspect dead after car chase COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Little: Aldermen 'overreach' in handling officer incident STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
4. Perception and reality: Downtown business owners grapple with fallout from shooting COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY