The salary issue began when Bach announced a wage freeze shortly after taking office, but that freeze apparently never took effect.
During 2011, people continued to get what Bach termed “longevity” increases based on performance and time in the job.
The salary freezes don’t include firefighters or police officers, the city’s “sworn” staff.
Those raises, totaling an additional $750,000, were not targeted by Bach. Nor does it include employees at Memorial Health System or Colorado Springs Utilities, which have their own salary programs as city enterprises.
The civilian increases were built into the 2012 budget, also apparently without Bach’s knowledge. Bach presented the budget to council, and the city has held several public hearings about the budget. But, somehow, the salary increases went unnoticed.
He became aware of the problem last week and moved quickly to fix it, but that’s when he ran afoul of the City Council.
“I know its short notice,” Bach said at Monday’s informal meeting. “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,” he said. “If I’m put in that position, that’s what I’ll do.”
But council members weren’t inclined to take his threat seriously when it came time to vote on the proposal Tuesday afternoon. Nancy Johnson, from the city’s human resources office, made the proposal in the mayor’s absence.
“I wish the mayor were here,” said Brandy Williams. “I would like him to clarify that he said he would start layoffs if we didn’t pass this. But this money is already in the budget, and it’s less than the contingency fund he asked for. We got the budget and we cut it $300,000 to put in the fund balance, which is just about half of this figure. I don’t understand his reasoning.”
Council member Bernie Herpin said he lost sleep over the issue.
“We hire people, and we explain that if they work hard, train, perform as expected, then they’ll get raises,” he said. “This year, people got raises. Now, at the last minute, we’re going to tell people they won’t get the raises they expected in January.”
City employees are already taking home less money because council has increased their share of health care costs for each of the past two years, he said.
“They haven’t gotten cost of living adjustments either,” Herpin said. “And we have lost hundreds of jobs over the past few years, we’re asking them to do more and more.”
Councilman Tim Leigh didn’t see it that way. He supported the salary freezes.
“It’s not what’s good for the employees; it’s what’s good for the enterprise,” he said. “You have to take sour medicine in the short run to get well in the long run.”
The issue worried Councilwoman Angela Dougan for different reasons.
“I worry that we’ll give someone a raise then have to take it back,” she said, “or have that person lose their job in June.”
Dougan, whose husband is a police officer, said those basic, core services deserve the pay increases — but that the government had to cut somewhere.
“I think we need to see where we are with salaries and know for sure — yes or no — if city employees are overpaid,” she said. “I definitely support this.”
In his pitch Monday afternoon, Bach said he wanted to hold the salary increases in order to conduct the compensation survey to compare Springs’ salaries with other cities the same size.
None of the six members opposing the measure agreed that salaries had to be frozen in order to conduct the compensation survey.
“I wholeheartedly support a compensation survey,” said Scott Hente. “But when I was in the military, if there were pay freezes, people still got raises when they went from 12 years in to 14 years in –on the understanding that that’s a more valuable employee.”
There are other solutions, Herpin said. If the compensation survey finds some city employees are grossly overpaid, then that person’s pay can be frozen until they’ve been with the city long enough to reach the appropriate level.
Bach, of course, wanted 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 Monday.
Not so fast, said Herpin, Williams, Hente, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Lisa Czelatdko, all of whom voted against the mayor’s request.
“I certainly don’t want to go against the mayor,” said Martin. “But the timing of this concerns me. We just got the language for this when we arrived — it was sitting on the dais. And we’ve been in the meetings since then. We haven’t even had 24 hours notice — more like 10 minutes.”