By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tupelo’s City Council seems unlikely to support Mayor Jason Shelton’s 1 percent pay raise for city employees, an effort that falls short of catching up with inflation.
Shelton shared details with council members earlier this week for a pay increase that amounts to a beginning police officer’s monthly pay increasing by $29 a month and an entry-level firefighter earning an extra $24 each month.
The mayor said in January he’d unveil a seven-year plan to reduce overall city employee personnel costs and to fund pay raises. Instead of a multiyear plan, council members will decide whether to support a plan that includes only a single year and would begin with paychecks in May.
Funding for the 1 percent pay bump comes from eliminating five positions from the general fund, including one held by Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris, who continue working with the city as an unpaid consultant. Three of those jobs were vacant, while an engineering position will transfer to the Major Thorough Program’s budget. The city currently has 368 employees paid from the city’s general revenue fund.
The difference between reducing the five positions and adding the 1 percent raise would result in saving the city’s general fund $53,029.
Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows inflation has increased by 4 percent since city employees received the most recent cost-of-living adjustment in October 2011.
The pay increases would not impact pay for Shelton, council members or city attorney Ben Logan.
Shelton acknowledged Friday he may not have support for his plan to pass at Tuesday’s meeting. Some council members have even asked him to remove it from the meeting’s agenda to give city leaders more time to work out a plan that includes higher reductions in personnel costs that could lead to 3 percent pay increase for city employees.
“I’m still talking to members of the council hoping to iron out details to make sure we have enough votes to pass it,” he said. “It would be a shame not to support the men and women who make our city operate on a daily basis.”
Two council members – Markel Whittington of Ward 1 and Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 – plan to vote against Shelton’s plan, while Jim Newell of Ward 3 has voiced strong hesitation. Council President Nettie Davis will not vote on the raise since her daughter is a city employee.
Four members of the council must support Shelton’s plan for it to pass.
Whittington and Bryan said they prefer higher employee pay raises that would require further reductions in overall personnel costs.
“For just a little more work, I think we can give an even better pay raise and put the city in a more sustainable situation for the future,” Bryan said.
Whittington favors a 3 percent merit pay for employees while Bryan favors a 1.5 percent to 2 percent pay increase or higher for all employees.
Norris has recommended city personnel costs closely mirror sales tax collections to prevent costs from spiraling out of control. Tupelo personnel costs have outpaced sales tax collections 13 times since 1992.
Shetlon said if this plan doesn’t pass, he’ll keep pushing for it and look for other ways to achieve personnel savings. Further reductions in personnel costs could involve further reducing the city’s workforce by encouraging early retirements and consolidating duties of existing positions.