SALISBURY — Unanimous in their belief that general employees deserve some kind of financial reward in light of a recent pay scale adjustment granted to the Salisbury Police Department (SPD), the City Council is split down the middle on whether a one-time bonus could be adequate, at least until the practicality of a raise can be further researched.
“I think that the commitment is uniform amongst us to provide our employees with a livable wage,” said Councilman Tim Spies.
Council President Terry Cohen felt likewise but stressed the need for prudence in committing the city to a raise.
“I want to know that it’s sustainable,” she said.
The raise could be either a cost of living advancement or a standard step-increase. Most likely employees would see a 2-percent pay bump if the council decides to go the raise route, costing $450,000 annually.
One fear that Cohen and the council majority had, however, is that it might be difficult for Salisbury to stick to that 2 percent commitment each year. Cohen floated the idea of conducting a special study, which the city has done in the past, to determine if a raise is called for, how much it should be and if Salisbury can afford it.
The cost of the previous study to the city was about $40,000 and took several months. Councilmembers Laura Mitchell and Shanie Shields both took issue with the idea of performing another evaluation instead of simply granting employees a raise.
“I’m not in favor of spending $40,000 to do another study,” said Mitchell.
In her view, that $40,000 would be better spent covering part of a 2-percent raise for employees this year.
“It is money I think can be put back in their paychecks,” she said.
There is also the matter of time. Even if conducted faster than the previous evaluation, a new study would be hard-pressed to turn in results before this spring’s budget session and at the very least would delay an employee raise for months.
“I want us all to sit down and figure out how to make this work for the employees because it has got to happen … right now we have employees that are very upset,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also reminded the council that there was no great debate when it decided to raise the pay scale for the police last month. Cohen, however, was quick to draw distinctions between the two events.
“The situation with the police is different,” she said.
The SPD was looking at the possibility of an officer retention epidemic, according to Chief Barbara Duncan. In order to stem a potential departure of officers, the council decided to bump pay scales up to bring Salisbury better in line with other area departments. Cohen argued that this was unavoidable if the council wished to keep the city safe.
“A stitch here and a stitch there just wasn’t going to cut it,” she said. “We can talk dollars and cents all you want, but I think about murders.”
Councilmember Debbie Campbell reminded the room that the previous employee study had found SPD operating 18 percent below the area average with police salaries and all the council did last month was bring it to a “competitive rate.”
Cohen, Campbell and Spies all three expressed an interest in a possible one-time bonus to employees while a new study was being conducted with $650 the most likely figure.
That isn’t what employees are looking for, though, according to City Administrator John Pick.
“I think they’re looking for a step increase or a cost of living increase,” he told the council, adding that employees probably wouldn’t consider a bonus “fair and adequate” in light of the ongoing bump given to SPD.
Whether a study is conducted and either a bonus or raise is granted, the council all agreed that Mayor Jim Ireton should propose an action that members could then take into consideration.