By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
All five Meridian City Council members voted on Tuesday to cut the proposed salaries of five city department heads.
Mayor Percy Bland, who was elected in June, replaced some department heads and kept others; giving a higher rate to the directors of Community Development, Homeland Security, and the chief of police. The chief administrative officer's salary, which had stayed the same as the last administration, was cut, as was public works. The fire chief and parks and recreation director each received slight raises from the City Council; the chief financial officer's salary stayed the same.
In an overall budget of approximately $50 million, the savings to taxpayers on department head salaries added up to $38,803.
Asked if the lower salary would affect his future with the city, Curt Goldacker, chief administrative officer, said it would not.
"No, and I don't think it's going to change the future of any of them, but there will be a discussion with the council in the very near future, like tomorrow (Wednesday). There are things that the mayor had brought forward to the council members," Goldacker said. "When it comes to the salaries, that's something we're going to continue to discuss. We'll be talking with them tomorrow and it will be ongoing up to 1 October."
Contacted by telephone on Tuesday night, Bland said he will talk to council members when he returns to Meridian. He was out of town to seek a $30 million grant for the city. During budget work sessions during the last several weeks, Bland had asked council members to approve the salaries he had proposed. However, he was glad to hear that the council approved a living wage increase for full time employees making less than $9 per hour and a $400 wage increase for other city employees.
"We got a balanced budget passed without a tax increase and we got the livable wage increase," Bland said. "That's historic. There are certain things that we are very happy about and those are two of them."
The council's resolution authorizing pay raises said that all permanent full-time employees who work 2,080 or more hours per year will be paid a minimum of $9 per hour. All permanent full-time employees who work 2,080 or more hours per year and who have been working full-time for the city of Meridian for at least one year will receive $9 per hour or a $400 annual raise, whichever is greater. All other permanent full-time employees who work 2,080 or more hours per year who have worked for the city full-time for at least a year will receive a $400 annual raise.
Also on Tuesday, the council approved the general fund at $34.8 million; other funds such as water and sewer, make up the remainder of the budget.
The tax rate remained the same, except for a slight increase requested by the Meridian Public School District, which asked for an additional 1.6 mill increase, which Ward One Councilman George Thomas, council president, explained would increase the taxes on a $100,000 house by about $10 per year.
The city has maintained a millage rate of 50.84 for 10 years, something Thomas said could not go on indefinitely.
"You can't keep operating on the same rate," Thomas said. "The day is going to come — you can't keep that millage at that level forever."
In a split vote, the council decided to continue the city's health insurance coverage with Fox-Everett, rejecting the mayor's proposal to change the insurance carrier to United Healthcare. Bland reiterated that the move would have saved the city $280,000.
Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston, herself an insurance agent, said she was in support of leaving the employees' health insurance with Fox-Everett because there wasn't enough time to have a smooth transition between the council's decision on Tuesday and the first of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1.
"October 1 is almost here," Houston said. "We need for it to be apples to apples. In my opinion, it's too close."
Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon, the lone vote against keeping Fox-Everett, said it was not too late to change, that United had said it could make the transition. He favored changing in order to save the city money.
The motion passed when the other four council members voted in favor of keeping Fox-Everett.
"We want to ensure that the city employees have the best health insurance. We went out, thought we had three good quotes," Goldacker said. "The mayor wanted United Healthcare which offered a $280,000 savings. They actually came and said they would make sure and provide a smooth turnover. They are very comfortable with Fox-Everett, the council decided. We're going to go with Fox-Everett. The employees will have the best health coverage. That's important."
Bland was disappointed in the vote.
"Those are not just projected numbers," said Bland, who is also an insurance agent. "There's a 16 percent savings. We're a self-insured entity. When a city employee has a medical claim, we pay for that claim through an administrator. They had lobbied with all of the physicians, pharmacies and hospitals for the best prices. The bottom line is they had the best cost-savings for our employees."
Bland said the transition could have gone forward smoothly.
"It's not consistent with what the city council is doing to pay $280,000 when we don't have to," Bland said.