City budget is back on track

By | September 30, 2005 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
A standing-room-only crowd filled the meeting room of Sparta Board of Mayor and Aldermen as city employees filled the room to hear elected officials discuss the final terms of the new budget.
The City of Sparta budget failed to pass during the Sept. 15, 2005, meeting of the board. Portions of the budget had been questioned, which included longevity pay, Christmas bonus and health insurance. Alderman Ben Holland said the board should have reviewed the budget more extensively before making a final decision.
Sparta Mayor Tommy Pedigo said the budget was then “back to square one.” Pedigo scheduled a budget meeting of the board for Sept. 27, 2005, where members could discuss any recommended changes.
“I take some of the blame – I guess I take all the blame,” said Pedigo. “The problem is we didn’t start working on the budget to make whatever changes needed to be made to the budget – in January or February of last year. And, we’ve waited here until the last hour to try to make some changes. It’s a matter of discussion for all of us.”
Alderman Howard Griffin, who was absent from the Sept. 15, 2005 meeting, commented on the issue.
“The employees of the City of Sparta are our greatest asset,” said Griffin. “They meet the public more than any of the rest of us. I have compared the study we had done in 2004 – wages. They’re in line with other towns in the area. I know we’ve got some things we need to look at, but we’ve waited too late to look at them now. We can look at them for next year.”
Griffin said the board should pass the budget “as it is right now.” Then, he recommended the board conduct a study to evaluate pay scales and other items of concern.
Pedigo said the board should make the “playing field level” for all city employees. He referred to equalizing insurance coverage for all city employees. According to Pedigo, Sparta Electric and Water employees have healthcare coverage that exceeds the benefits of other city employees.
“I think it’s too late for us to change those plans, but we could at least make those plans as close to the same as we can,” said Pedigo.
Griffin said he had reviewed the plan, and Sparta’s benefits for employees were comparable to those for city employees in Cookeville and McMinnville.
“I’d like to make one point,” said Holland. “This pay plan came up, not by me, but by the board more than a year ago. The reason it came up, we went to a TML meeting in Chattanooga.”
Holland said one of the speakers pointed at the meeting pointed out there were percentages and ratios that needed to be considered by municipalities when calculating salary benefits. When that percentage exceeds 50 percent, then a municipality’s pay scale would be higher than average. Holland said this information is what precipitated the board to review the pay plan for city employees.
“It’s taken us from there up until now to look at it,” said Holland.
He said he agreed with the seven-step plan that was designed to bring city employees pay up to market value that is paid by surrounding cities.
“The longevity [pay] went one step further,” said Holland, “and I think that’s the one we’ve got to look at from the standpoint that there’s no cap. I don’t think there’s that much thought that was put into it. There’s nothing that’s been said up until this point about cutting any city utility employee – their insurance or their benefits.
“I think we’ve got to go forward and commit ourselves to getting this done. I want everything I can for the employees, but by the same token if there are areas we can look at and improve that and it saves us money somewhere down the road, it’s going to help both ways.”
Holland said employees would still receive good benefits and good pay. However, he said the board must answer to their constituents.
“We’re not here to take anything away,” said Holland. “We just want to look at this and move quicker than we have the last year or two.”
“I think at our next meeting we need to continue with what we’ve already started with,” said Vice Mayor Hoyt Jones. “The people we’ve jerked around are these people right here [in the audience].”
Pedigo said the 2006-2007 budgetary process should begin in December to avoid problems like these in 2005-2006. He said the board should schedule monthly budget meetings. Pedigo said the board should “bring in” department heads for one meeting and hear their concerns. Then, a representative should be selected from each city department to attend the remainder of the meetings. Pedigo said this would help alleviate rumors about budgetary decisions.
After a lengthy discussion among board members, Pedigo asked for questions from city employees who were in the audience.
“You talk about 12 steps – we’ve just got seven in our department,” said Donnie Brock, of Sparta Street Department. “Where does the 12 come to? Like somebody’s that hired in a later date when I was hired in has stepped out. Somebody, four or five years [later], hires in and they step up to seven, with their steps and their raises, they come up making more money than I do.”
Holland explained the city has 12 job classifications, with seven steps in each of those classifications.
However, Jones said he believed Brock was saying a Sparta Street Department employee had been hired in at possibly the same pay level as what Brock, who has been with Sparta Street Department several years,
was making at the time the employee was hired.
“It couldn’t be,” said Griffin.
“He does,” said Brock, referring to the employee who was paid at a higher rate.
“That shouldn’t happen,” said Pedigo. “That’s something that needs to be looked into. You’re saying that’s not right. That’s what we’re saying, too.”
Marty Carmichael, City of Sparta administrator, responded to Brock’s statement.
“We sometimes put people in a higher step because of their experience,” said Carmichael.
Another employee commented about the minimal turnover rate of city employees. He said employees look at the longevity pay as an incentive to continue working for City of Sparta.
Pedigo said he would present information to the board during next year’s budgetary process that evaluates pay scales for comparable positions in other municipalities.
“In most of the areas, we are in a reasonable fair paying scale,” said Pedigo. “You have to realize, in many situations there are jobs that you’re making about the same as somebody in Crossville’s making. And, there’s a few that I’m saying that probably need to be raised. But, here’s the hard part. There’s some that are too high.”
Pedigo said he would set the first budget meeting for fiscal year 2006-2007 in December 2005. He said the 2006-2007 budget should be completed by March 1, 2006. This will give the board and city employees time to review the final plan before July 1, 2006, which is the beginning of the new fiscal year.
“We should have looked at it last year,” said Pedigo, referring to pay scales. “I will take that on my shoulders. It’s my responsibility.”
Pedigo said the board, in previous years, had always scheduled a work session to discuss the budget. However, they failed to conduct one for fiscal year 2005-2006.
Sparta Board of Mayor and Aldermen will meet at 5 p.m., Oct. 6, 2005, at Sparta City Hall. The budget will be presented to the board for approval.

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