Hundreds of city employees in Warner Robins are now getting a pay raise.
The raises are thanks to the approval of the budget for Fiscal Year 2018 at Thursday night’s special session Council meeting.
In a 3-2 vote, the Council approved the budget for 2018. The special session lasted only about 15 minutes.
The approved budget included the pay scale adjustment that the city hopes will fix salary compression issues amongst employees. Compression was leading to new employees often making the same thing as their more veteran coworkers, which a study said was leading to increased turnover and lower morale.
It also included funding for five new officer positions at the Warner Robins Police Department. The Department says it is the first budgeted strength-of-force increase for the Department since before 2000.
But the $1.6 million price tag for both is coming from reserve funds.
Councilman Tim Thomas is one of the council members who voted against the budget.
“We do not know how we're going to pay for it next year. Now that we have voted this in, it is a reoccurring cost without a revenue source to back it up. That to me is dangerous, so I'm concerned about that. That's one reason I voted against it,” Thomas said.
The budget was in danger of not passing when the Council was in a 2-2 tie. Then, Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins asked the Mayor directly if this was the budget he wanted passed. He said it was, so she voted in favor.
However, the Council did not pass a permanent plan to pay for the adjustment and new positions after Fiscal Year 2018.
Warner Robins’ Chief Financial Officer said next year, the reserve money won't be there to pay for 2019 salaries and positions. The newly approved budget, with the salary adjustments and new positions included, is forecasted to pull $5.6 million from the Special Reserve Funds.
But Mayor Randy Toms says they couldn't afford to wait.
“I think we were in danger of our employees losing hope if we didn't do something tonight,” Toms said after the meeting.
However, he says he knew they are taking a risk.
“Absolutely, yes, sure, I’m concerned that we just committed to a continuing $1.6 million that we have to find a way to sustain into the future. So yes, I’m concerned about that. But, I’m also concerned enough about that to put all the options on the table and pick the best one that provides us with the opportunity to be the best stewards of the money that’s entrusted with us by the citizens,” Toms said in his office.
The City does have some possible solutions to the funding issue that include raising the millage or utility rates as well as hoping the tax digest increases enough to cover the cost. But, nothing was voted on as a solution on Thursday.
Councilman Thomas said he doesn’t know how the City can afford the reoccurring cost without raising millage or utility rates in the future.
“I think we won’t have a choice now. I was hoping that, like I said, I like being conservative and let’s see where the digest comes in, then we’ll know what kind of money we’re really looking at. Right now it’s speculation and I do not think we’ll have the money next year,” Thomas said after the meeting.
Toms says people shouldn't be surprised for their rates to increase.
“We've been open and honest enough to let the people know that one of the options is a millage rate increase, and so I don't think we've hid the ball, I don't think we've diverted attention, or anything like that. I think we're being open and honest about this and saying this is important,” Toms said.
City leaders should have a better idea on the tax revenues in the fall, before deciding how to fund the increases going forward. Toms said this year’s upcoming elections were not a factor in the budget or funding issues for the future.
"The employees of the City of Warner Robins are extremely grateful to hear that the new pay scale will be implemented," Fire Department Chief Ross Moulton said in a text to WMAZ's Jacob Reynolds after the meeting.
The vote was 3-2 due to Councilman Chuck Shaheen’s absence.
Councilman Clifford Holmes was the other "no" vote. Council members Carolyn Robbins, Keith Lauritsen, and Mike Davis voted in favor.
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