published Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council closing in on budget


by Cliff Hightower
Council member Carol Berz attends a meeting of the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.
Council member Carol Berz attends a meeting of the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

• $2.8 million: Employee pay incentives

• 1.5 million: General services employee pay raises

• $1.3 million: Police career ladder

Source: Chattanooga

WHAT'S NEXT

The 2012-13 fiscal year budget is slated to be voted on Tuesday night during the regularly scheduled business meeting.

The Chattanooga City Council is a step away from voting on a $209 million operating budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The only roadblock is reaching agreement on who among the 2,100-person workforce will get raises.

"I think they are pretty much close to a compromise," said Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

The council has been working on the budget for more than a month, and questions concerning salaries have been an issue for three weeks.

Mayor Ron Littlefield's proposed budget included a 3 percent across-the-board raise for general services employees at a cost of $1.5 million.

The budget doesn't include a general raise for police officers and sworn personnel, but it sets aside $1.3 million for the police career ladder program that pays officers who get extra training.

Some council members have suggested a smaller pay raise, while others want all employees included in the across-the-board increase.

Littlefield spokesman Richard Beeland said the administration has worked out some alternatives.

"We are putting together some options for [the council] to review, and the mayor will be presenting them," Beeland said.

He said the council will have "three or four" options available.

During an hourlong discussion Tuesday, the council found itself split. Councilmen Andraé McGary and Peter Murphy want raises for all city employees, police and firefighters included. Councilwomen Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott supported a lower raise or none at all.

Besides the 3 percent increase, the city also proposed longevity pay for every employee -- $75 per year of service above five years.

Ladd described the proposed boost as being "too rich" at a time when constituents in the private sector aren't getting raises. She said she might support some salary increases, but not longevity pay.

Police Chief Bobby Dodd presented another option for police: raises to everyone except those who got career-ladder raises this year and last year.

McGary and Murphy said they could support that option.

McGary said Friday he's firm about the need for equity among all employees on raises.

"I've been very clear where I stand on the issue," he said.

Berz said the council can tell the administration how much to spend, but not how to spend it. But she said council members can offer guidance through their opinions.

"There's a fine line between giving conceptual decisions and micromanaging," she said. "So far, I think they've managed very well to give conceptual decisions."

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