Warner Robins City leaders met Monday night to try and find a solution to the city' salary compression issue with employees.
As explained in a Valdosta State University study, experienced employees are often making the same thing as newly hired employees, especially in the police and fire departments.
“They're going to get upset if you don't fix it, versus fixing it,” Police Chief Brett Evans explained at one point in Monday’s meeting.
“I'm going to do what's right with these people sitting right here in the audience, win, lose or draw,” Councilman Clifford Holmes said during the meeting.
It was a passionate and overflowing crowd at a meeting to discuss implementing a new salary system for city employees. At least 30 police officers and firefighters were at the meeting.
At one point, Chief Evans said the city could not afford to not fix the issue.
It would reward people for staying with the city year after year to hopefully cut down on turnover and to reward more experienced city employees.
But, as the study says, it would be costly to do, costing upwards of $1.5-1.6 million.
Councilman Keith Lauritsen explained which plan he supported.
“I personally think a rate increase would be fair across the board. It'd be more fair across the board because everybody would pay those rates,” Lauritsen said after the meeting.
He's talking about increasing city utility rates, which the city said could help pay the cost of the step pay system year after year. Council members said repeatedly that the city’s rates are lower than others in Central Georgia.
Or, the city could give the raises but then change the costs of benefits or retirement plans. Right now, the city pays for 100 percent of contributions to employee retirement plans. Councilman Tim Thomas suggested asking employees to put 3 percent of their salaries into retirement to offset rising healthcare costs.
They also discussed increasing the millage rate one mill, about 40 dollars a year on a one hundred-thousand-dollar home. Right now, the millage rate is just under 10 mills.
Police Chief Brett Evans says he believes the proposed increases would have the city's support if the Council passed them.
“I've talked to a lot of residents in the City of Warner Robins. They're very encouraged by the fact that if you were to earmark the money for public safety, you just say that you need to increase the number of officers and here's the way we want our revenue to go, that they would do that wholeheartedly,” Evans said after the meeting.
Lauritsen and Mayor Randy Toms agreed that the proposed increases would have public support, if used for public safety.
Mayor Toms says the $1.6 million would fix pay issues as well as funding five new officer positions.
City leaders hope the two fixes would help retain public safety employees and eventually reduce the crime rate.
No vote was taken Monday night.
Mayor and Council said they would consider pulling the $1.6 million from the reserve fund to implement the new pay scale this year before the budget deadline on July 1st.
After this year, the salaries would be funded by a proposed millage rate increase, utility rate increase, or other funding source.
During the meeting, Councilman Tim Thomas expressed public support for increasing the millage rate to fix the pay issue and help public safety. Councilman Mike Davis also said he was not against raising property taxes or utility rates, but not both.
Councilman Chuck Shaheen said repeatedly during Monday’s meeting that he supported pulling the money from reserves, and then funding future years’ salaries with money from the utility rate increases.
Mayor Randy Toms says he expects to have a plan to vote on at the next Council meeting on June 19, He said the city cannot keep kicking the problem down the road with temporary fixes.