By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
A decision will have to be made next week over how much money the heads of some city departments will make.
The pay Mayor Percy Bland promised some new department heads at the beginning of his administration in July has brought criticism from some Meridian City Council members. The mayor hires department heads, subject to the council's approval, but the council sets the budget.
After salaries became public through an article in The Meridian Star in August, some council members questioned the mayor's proposed salaries. At a council work session on Thursday, council members also discussed the salary issue.
Those given higher salaries than their immediate predecessors are police chief and community development. The police chief's salary went from $75,000 to $85,000, but according to figures provided by the mayor, the police chief who held the job in 2009 was making nearly $84,000.
In Community Development, the salary went from just over $89,000 during the John Robert Smith administration to $76,500 in the Cheri Barry administration. Bland has proposed the current salary at $86,000.
The Homeland Security chief was paid $77,600 during Smith's administration, but the job changed under Barry's administration. The director, Tim Miller, made $75,000 until becoming CAO where he made $81,600. The Homeland director's job was left vacant and Miller continued handling those duties, as well as those of the CAO.
Other department head salaries proposed by Bland have stayed the same and one was reduced.
Ward Three Councilwoman Barbara Henson said she is concerned about long-term department heads who were not given a raise, namely Fire Chief Anthony Clayton, and Mark Naylor, interim head of Parks and Recreation.
"There are two who have been here 30 years and didn't get offered a raise at all," Henson said. "That bothers me."
Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston said she is not for giving department heads the amount offered by Bland, but she is willing to go up on what she had originally suggested. Each council member has given Clerk of the Council Pam McInnis their suggestions for salaries. McInnis will average them and report back to the council, which will consider those numbers when it meets on Tuesday.
Also under discussion is the possibility of changing the city's insurance carrier from Fox-Everett to United Healthcare, which would save the city about $289,000 per year, according to insurance representatives who recently met with the council. However, Ward One Councilman George Thomas said after Fox-Everett offered a lower price, the difference in savings was actually about $140,000. He and others on the council generally agreed to leave the insurance as it is, with the exception on Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon, who favors changing the policy.
Houston said she doesn't think the company will have time to make the necessary changes in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Bland said he hopes the council will save the city money by approving the change in health insurance.
"United Healthcare’s proposal to the city for health coverage premiums was $420,000 less than the previous contract held by Fox-Everett, who has held the contract since 2004," Bland said. "After UHC’s proposal, Fox-Everett lowered its proposal by $140,000 but UHC’s offer is still some $280,000 less."
Local insurance company Benefits Management Group oversees the city’s health insurance accounts, Bland said.
"This is a great way to offer immediate savings to taxpayers with a more efficient use of funding," Bland said. "We can add more police officers, provide needed equipment for public works and fund important things in city government — all without a tax increase.”
The council is expected to vote on the matter Tuesday.
The council also has to decide what to do about funding for Homeland Security. The department had been operating without a director at an annual budget of $200,000, but Bland asked for $400,000 for the next fiscal year, which would include a director's salary of $85,000.
The council has offered a budget of $200,000. At a previous work session, Thomas said how the mayor decides to use that funding is up to him.
The $200,000 extra the council is planning to deny Homeland Security will instead be used to give full time, permanent city employees a $400 per year raise. Also, full time, permanent employees who are making less than $9 per hour will be given raises so they will make at least that much.
The council will meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.