Meridian Star

Local News

September 6, 2013

Council wants to pay less for top jobs

MERIDIAN —     Department heads in the city who were hired by Mayor Percy Bland may not get the salaries they were promised.

    In a budget work session on Thursday, members of the Meridian City Council again expressed concerns that some salaries are too high. Bland again defended his decisions, saying he had hired the people he needs for his staff at competitive salaries.

    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 department head's 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.

    At the Thursday work session, council members indicated they may not approve the higher salaries. Bland said he could very well lose some of his people if the salaries he promised them are not approved.

    "Yeah, if they start adjusting peoples salaries by that much, that's going to make a difference," Bland said.

    This is Bland's first term as mayor and it is the first term for three of the five council members. Ward Two Councilman Dustin Markham, Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston, and Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon are all new. Ward One Councilman George Thomas and Ward Three Councilwoman Barbara Henson are long-time members of the council.

    Markham and Houston both said they have had numerous comments from constituents who are concerned about salaries offered to department heads after the amounts were made public, yet a 2 1/2 percent cost of living raise was not included in the budget for city employees. However, there is money in the proposed budget for full time employees who are making less than $9 per hour. They will get a raise to take them to $9 per hour.

    Hammon agreed that the higher department head salaries are too high. "We can't do that," he said of Bland's proposed pay for department heads.

    Markham is also worried that they had to cut some equipment requests from Public Works.

    "We're still trying to find money for Public Works so we wont' have to rent equipment and we won't have to rely on the county so much to get certain jobs done in the city," Markham said. "Whether it's a small percentage of salaries, a small amount of money or not, it is imperative that we use whatever we have to fill these core needs first."

    Houston, who owns an insurance agency, said tax money must be spent cautiously.

    "With my business, I can pay my office assistant whatever I want, because that's my money," Houston said. "This is not my money."

    She said she didn't know why Bland had not offered the same amount that previous department heads had made to all of the new department heads.

    Bland reiterated his hope that the council consider the salaries he has proposed.

"That $20,000 or $30,000 that we keep going back and forth on these department heads is not going to be enough to change this," Bland said.

    Thomas put forth an idea to give all full time employees a pay raise, with the exception of those already being raised to $9 per hour. He suggested a $400 per year raise for employees that would come from half of the proposed $400,000 budget for Homeland Security.

    "The budget for Homeland Security last year was $200,000," Thomas said in an interview following the meeting. "There was some training going on. We didn't pay a director of Homeland. Tim Miller assumed that duty with his chief administrative officer job."

    There were two employees there, paid for by funds from police, fire, and Homeland, Thomas said.

    Bland hired Bunky Partridge as director with a salary of $85,000.

    "My proposal is to cut the Homeland budget back to the $200,000," Thomas said. "That could include any personnel that is out there."

    The other $200,000 in the proposed budget could be used for across the board pay raises for city employees.

    Asked if that would included the director's salary, Thomas said it would be up to the mayor.

    "He's going to have $200,000 for Homeland Security," Thomas said. "Now does he want a director? That's up to him."

    The council cannot take official action during work sessions, but they did agree that they would each write down what they considered appropriate salaries for department heads. Clerk of the Council Pam McInnis will take the numbers, average them and report back to the council, which will use the numbers as a starting point for discussion.

    The council also discussed possibly changing the city's health insurance company from Fox-Everett to United Healthcare. Insurance representatives met with the council and told them they could save approximately $280,000 by switching companies, but the general consensus of the council, with the exception of Hammon, is to leave the city's health insurance with Fox-Everett.

    Other council members said city employees are comfortable with the existing plan and they are also concerned about providers, such as doctors, who may not want to deal with the other company.

    Hammon said a savings of $280,000 is too big to ignore. Bland agreed, and in an interview following the meeting said that amount of money is a far larger issue than that of a $30,000 or so total in salary increases for some department heads.

    "You've got the same people talking about $30,000 approving $280,000 more for a major medical plan," Bland said.

    As for the department head salaries, Bland said he needs for the council to approve the budget for the salaries he has proposed. He said no member of the council asked him about the salaries until after it was published in The Meridian Star.

    "Those questions should have been asked in the beginning," Bland said. "Please hang in there with me and let me pick my own people. Judge me accordingly from what we are able to accomplish."

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