Mayor pressures Council to fix salary-freeze error

Filed under: Daily News,Government |

City employees are continuing to get pay raises despite the fact that Mayor Steve Bach mandated a salary freeze in May.

The raises have continued thanks to oversight in the city’s personnel policy manual.

The $749,500 problem came to light when city staff told Mayor Steve Bach about the problem. The money is built into the city’s 2012 budget, which should be approved by city council this week.

Bach asked City Council today to change the section of the personnel manual to temporarily delay the salary increases – 5 percent across the board for all civilian employees. Sworn employees, such as police and fire, are not included in the proposed wage freezes.

“I know its short notice,” Bach said. “It was a surprise to me too. But we need to get this fixed.”

Bach threatened to terminate positions to save the money if Council did not comply.

“The charter gives me the sole authority for layoffs or firings, and I will do that if I have to.”

Some Council members weren’t inclined to change the manual, which they approved  in February, on such short notice.

Councilwoman Brandy Williams told the mayor she brought up salary increases in October, when the airport gave its annual update. Salary increases were included in their budget request.

“I asked them, why there were increases when there was a salary freeze,” she said. “And, Mayor, you were sitting right there. I can play back the tape. So you’ve had months to look into this.”

Bach, for his part, insisted that he was unaware of the problem until staff brought it to his attention Dec. 7.

“I know this is short notice,” he said. “I apologize for that. This is yet another one of those rapid-fire government decisions we have to make quickly.”

The hurry, the mayor said, is that some salary increases will go into effect Jan. 1, and if they wait until after that, other city employees will feel slighted if they don’t also get raises.

Bach noted that the city staff included the money in next year’s budget, and he said it wouldn’t be touched – and that in some cases, the salary increases could be issued retroactively.

The reason for the delay: the city is starting a compensation survey to compare Springs’ workers salaries to workers in similar-sized cities. In some cases, workers who get paid more, will not get raises.

Bach, of course, wants the final decision to rest with him.

“I’m asking for you to give the mayor the discretion, case by case, to decide if those longevity raises should occur,” he said.

There’s no time to lose, despite council’s objections they haven’t had time to discuss the issue.

“We can’t wait,” Bach said. “We need to have these salary freezes in effect for the new year, so we can move once we get the study completed.”

But council was hesitant to change the policy manual so quickly.

“There were checks and balances in place for a reason,” Williams said. “I do not feel comfortable with these changes so quickly.”

Val Snider and Jan Martin agreed that major, permanent changes to the policy manual, which passed as a city ordinance, would take time.

Instead, City Attorney Chris Melcher will determine whether the salary increases can be temporarily halted while the study is conducted – without changing the manual permanently.

If it can, the city council will vote on the ordinance at tomorrow’s formal meeting.