East Bethel City Council votes 4-1 to approve staff wage increases

The East Bethel City Council Oct. 2 voted 4-1 to give city employees a 2 percent wage increase for each year of a three-year labor agreement running from Jan. 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2016.

“I think it’s long overdue,” said City Councilmember Bob DeRoche, pointing out that over the past four years city employees “have pretty much been held to next to nothing.”

City employees have received a 3 percent pay increase over those last four years, or an average of three-quarters of a percent per year.

Councilmember Heidi Moegerle voted against the agreement, stating that she would prefer to see the city limit the wage increases to 1.5 percent in light of the city’s current financial situation.

“We’re in a financial bind,” said Moegerle. “We’ve paid 1.5 percent for last year; I think that additional half percent is going over and above what we need. We certainly could always reopen this if we wanted to add in a half percent if our financial basis was sound … I think 2 percent is too much given all the considerations.”

The 2 percent wage increases will cost the city about $30,000 more annually in wage and benefit costs.

“A lot of these people have been here for quite a while,” said DeRoche. “I’ve spent a lot of years in the job market and a 2 percent raise as far back as I can remember was almost a slap in the face. And I think the employees have been pretty patient. We can’t blame them for the sewer-water project.”

East Bethel’s financial concerns stem from a levy increase that could be as high as 17.5 percent for 2014, due solely to the fact that the city’s first bond payments on the sewer and water project come due in 2014. Without that obligation, the city’s levy would have been $4,440,742, a 0.3 percent decrease from the current year.

The council is continuing to discuss ways to cut the city’s budget to help relieve the burden on city taxpayers. A final levy – which may be lower, but not higher than the preliminary levy approved last month – will have to be approved by the end of December.

City Administrator Jack Davis pointed out that many of the budget decisions being made are only solutions for the coming budget year, and that “we’ll be back in the same boat next year.”

He said it is very important for the city to manage the budget for the long term, since additional bond payments will be coming due in 2016 and 2017.