‘Record’ raises on the table for WM city workers
City looking to bring numbers in line with comparable salaries in other
West Memphis City Council met in a special work session to consider Mayor Marco McClendon’s recommendation to offer the biggest ever raise package to city workers.
“I promised every department we would look at this as of July first and see how we were doing,” said McClendon. “First, all the raises amount to a record raise. Second, in this package are the raises for those that did not get one since June of last year.”
That meant the mayor stood pat for recent increased pay allowances to the utilities, streets, sanitation departments and some city administrators done over the last year.
The mayor said he whittled away at his ideal of a million-dollar pay allotment. The $805,000 increase amounted to 7.5 percent, which weighed in favor of front-line employees with executives in most branches of city government receiving a nominal increase. The high-turnover paramedic position increased pay by 9.5 percent increase.
McClendon, in his freshman term, outlined a midyear pay increase proposal following three straight years of across- the-board raises of 4 percent coupled with 4 percent bonuses.
Every four percent cost the city about $400,000. The mayor told city council if they approved his plan no other raises would be considered before the calendar year 2021. The raises would cost the city another $400,000 for the remainder of 2019.
Councilman Wayne Croom wanted to know the basis of the recommendation.
“ In the past, when we’ve given raises, it’s been a very emotional decision. Now we have this study to go by… that sets a benchmark for us for average pay in samesized cities across the state.” —
West Memphis City Councilman Tracy Catt “When and how did this originate,” said Croom.
Budget Chairman Tracy Catt said a comparative study of other similar sized cities had been undertaken by the city human resources department using published Arkansas Municipal League pay rates and job descriptions to establish the median pay for each position.
“In the past, when we’ve given raises it’s been a very emotional decision,” said Catt. “Now we have this study to go by. It’s an unrelated third party that sets a benchmark for us for average pay in same-sized cities across the state.”
The big two departments lined up for raises were police and fire departments. Those will swallow $600,000 of the $800,000 package. City Treasurer Frank Martin said competition with other mid-south departments made increases a must to recruit and retain for the uniformed city services.
“What’s pushing this cart is fire and police,” said Martin.
“Without those raises more will be gone,” said Councilman James Pulliaum. “That’s truly what we have to think about. We need police and fire protection. The fire and police department definitely need to be taken care of.”
Councilman James Pulliaum questioned whether the record sum would be sustainable.
“I’m not opposed to giving raises, we just have to be cautious,” said Pulliaum. “We have a lot of projects we already have to do. We need an understanding of what we are doing and how we are doing it. I would like us to take our time looking at this. As you explain it to us we get a different picture. I can’t digest this in three hours. We’ve always avoided layoffs.”
Other projects included $12,000,000 for new municipal buildings on the drawing board and finding $470,000 to make the initial purchase of promised residential garbage bins.
The new building payment would cost the city $600,000 per year once they are handed the keys.
Tracy Catt replied to Pulliaum’s concerns saying the city was gaining revenue against budget but also threw out a caution flag.
“You’re right, I don’t want to see us get into that situation either,” said Catt.
“But, being a realist, there are very few municipalities in the country that haven’t laid someone off.”
Councilwoman Melanie Hutchinson wondered if the city had become too dependent on the revenue stream from Southland Casino & Racing. The increased revenue from live gaming had reported just twice. City Treasurer Frank Martin said the increase was enough to offset building payments on the new fire stations and district courthouse and to set aside for replacing city vehicles and trucks. The remaining half year would have to come from city sales taxes. Sales tax revenue was up $104,409 through the first six months of the year.
According to the budget chairman, the mayor expressed confidence and optimism in the near future for the city.
“The mayor’s perspective is he has businesses calling him everyday wanting to come here,” said Catt. “He feels very confident the economic base of West Memphis will do much better over the short term.
It’s going to grow. In 2020 we will expand the South Loop Rd. which will open up warehousing opportunities. Housing is the only drawback we have for the city. Where are we going to build? We are going to have to tear down for new housing.”
“Is it safe to say we are depending on Southland?”
“I believe the potential for continued growth from Southland is there,” replied Catt. “When they finished, its expected they’ll draw an additional 20,000 people per day.”
Much of the city revenue won’t be realized until the casino and hotel expansion are in place. The building project just began pile driving foundation piers this week with completion about 18 months away.
Croom relayed concerns from Ward 3 constituents that a felt a spending spree was underway at city hall.
“I wish the timing on this was different,” said Croom. “Out in the community of Ward 3, the citizens are thinking we are spending a lot of money.
Something will have to give, like taxes going up.”
McClendon told city council to mull it over for a week and a half. He promised it would be up to vote at the next council meeting on July 18, and wanted the proposed raises effective for the final pay period of July.