City OKs modest raises for employees

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town_tupelo_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo city employees will receive a 1 percent raise in a month, a small increase intended to boost morale as elected officials hope to provide more in October.

The City Council, in a split 4-2 vote Tuesday, supported Mayor Jason Shelton’s “compromise” plan he offered a day earlier that removed an extra $17,380 annual compensation for the Human Resources Department head.

The council majority favored the modest raises – from $24 a month for an entry-level fireman to $68 for the police chief – over postponing them in hopes of providing a percent or two more in the future.

“I agree that it’s not much but at least it’s a start,” said Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer.

City employees last received a bump in pay in October 2011. Since then, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports inflation has been 4 percent.

Council members hope to provide an additional unspecified raise amount when the next fiscal year begins in October.

Officials face a delicate balance as they flip through city finances to find money for raises.

First, Tupelo Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris warns personnel costs as part of the city’s general fund budget routinely exceed sales taxes collected as a percentage of total revenue. However, each year without employee raises can impact morale for workers whose dollars stretch less and less.

Shelton’s plan will eliminate four positions from the city’s general fund budget, funded through property and sales taxes. Eliminated jobs include an administrative position and a laborer job at Public Works, a civilian position within the Police Department and engineer position that will transfer to the Major Throughfare Program’s budget.

Changes in the Budget and Finance Department will include Norris leaving the city’s payroll by advising as an unpaid consultant and the hiring of another deputy city clerk. City Clerk Kim Hanna will absorb CFO duties.

Councilmen Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 and Markel Whittington of Ward 1 voted against the raises, saying the pay increases and personnel cost cuts weren’t enough, uncertainty remains related to future health insurance expenses and no significant increases in tax revenue are on the horizon.

“I can’t support this to due sales tax being flat, ad valorem tax is flat,” Whittington said before the vote. “I think with some additional work we can give the good associates of Tupelo more than a 1 percent raise.”

Council President Nettie Davis recused herself from voting since her daughter works for the city as a records clerk.

This vote marks the first of two debates on personnel pay this month. Council members decide in two weeks whether to approve a $12,470 increase for Hanna and an unspecified increase for Personnel Director Cassandra Moore.