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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Budget board considers employee pay cut

Budget board considers employee pay cut

By TERRI HARBER

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Members of the Baker City Budget Committee were wrapping up their meeting Thursday night when one of the members asked for a 2.5 percent across-the-board cut in the employee payroll.

Former Councilor Gail Duman, one of the members of the board, made the request after more than three hours of discussions that resulted in a variety of project expenditures being chosen from a larger number compiled by city staff.

“It’s time to look at doing something to control costs in personnel services,” Duman said. 

The proposed General Fund budget for the 2012-13 Fiscal Year exceeds $5.8 million and 71 percent of that money — more than $3.7 million — is for personnel services. 

City Manager Mike Kee asked for time to do some research. This would allow him to provide “some options along with consequences,” he said.

Mayor Dennis Dorrah also suggested taking time to pull together information for consideration next week.

Dorrah then said the proposal should be pay cuts for all employees, not just to police, fire and others paid from the city’s General Fund.

 Duman then expanded that request to include public works employees after initially asking that only general fund positions be targeted.

Councilor Clair Button wondered why this was proposed because they’d just approved a conservative budget that underestimated revenue and that the city was “in the same position as last year — and that’s pretty darned good,” he said.

Button also thought the proposal would make labor negotiations with fire, police more difficult.

“I’m not comfortable with an across-the-board whack. I don’t see justification for doing this,” he said. “It’s without a grain of good reason.”

Councilor Beverly Calder agreed with Duman and seconded the motion. 

“I think it’s a trim. A reality check,” she said. “We have to start making changes now.”

“I’d like to see an evaluation of what’s possible and reasonable,” said Councilor Aletha Bonebrake. “How it would be done and what it would mean.”

Councilor Sam Bass asked why council members in favor of the pay decrease also want to hire a full-time city engineer for the cost of $120,000.

“Cut their salaries?” he asked.

“I want to trim,” Calder said.

“You want to trim?” Bass asked, seeking clarification.

“Everyone is doing it,” Calder said. 

She then said that many governments are curbing budgets by using such methods as employee pay cuts and freezes, and work furloughs.

“It’s time to make those changes,” Duman said.

“It’s a good exercise,” said Josie Mack, a board member. “You should be given the opportunity to come back to us. ... It’s complex.”

Kee said he would have preferred to have heard such a proposal earlier.

“This would have been a better conversation at the beginning,” Kee said. “We could have shown you up to 10 percent.”

“2 1/2 (percent) is small,” said Richard Langrell, another former councilor. “We couldn’t trim trees. Buy picnic tables. 

“It shows we’re way too heavy on personnel. Maybe we need to change priorities in spending,” he also said.

“Something has got to give,” said Randy Daugherty, board chairman and another former councilor. 

Daugherty was concerned about the small size of the ending fund balance at roughly $835,000 and a contingency of $80,000.  

He also said the local economy isn’t likely to begin expanding anytime soon and that he didn’t want to see the city have to borrow money.

The budget proposed initially provides 3 percent raises for police and fire department employees and up to 2 percent for non-represented workers.

If the cutting results in layoffs instead of trims from each worker’s pay, the city still needs to buy the vacation time and finance a year of unemployment compensation using money from the General Fund, Kee said.

The Planning Department is going to cut a position worth $35,000, for example. It’s a job based on money received for the services, however, he said. 

Duman briefly brought up the issue on Wednesday when she started reciting salary differences between, for example, city employees and county employees with comparable duties.

“Maybe it’s time to consider freezing wages until the county considers catching up with us,” she said Wednesday.

Police Chief Wyn Lohner explained to Duman then that cities typically pay more for law enforcement than counties “because cities have more calls for service. They do more across the board.”

When Baker City is compared to other cities in the eastern and central parts of the state employee pay is “in the middle of the pack,” Lohner said.

If the councilors ultimately approve an across-the-board decrease it likely would start July 1.

Among expenditures already decided on before hearing about a proposal to cut employee wages: 

• $150,000 for burying utility lines under Resort Street to be transferred from the street fund; 

• $25,000 extra for the Sam-O Swim Center to use for matching grant funds or to offset the cost to repair equipment that must operate if the pool is to be used;

• $25,000 for a new telephone system at City Hall, shop buildings and fire department; 

• $5,500 for valve work, and mausoleum window repairs and seal-offs at Mount Hope Cemetery; 

• $2,500 for replacement of hazardous trees.

And here is a list of expenditures that the group didn’t advance:

• $18,000 for furnace upgrade at City Hall;

• $5,000 for records restoration, particularly documents dating back to the early 1900s;  

• $5,000 for repairs to the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway; 

• $2,500 for picnic tables in city parks.

Many projects were reduced in scope. A sand filter as well as a domestic water boiler and tank replacement totaling $97,000 was sought initially for Sam-O and the budget for removing hazardous trees was reduced from $5,000, for examples.

An interfund loan of nearly $63,000 to the golf course from the General Fund would remove costs to service the debt as well.

The board will hear more about the budget at 6 p.m. Monday, Baker City Hall, 1655 First St.

The budget board is composed of councilors and residents — many of whom had served on the council during past years.

The current councilors still must approve the budget. 

 
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