Pay raises get final go-ahead from City Council

2013-12-03T00:00:00Z Pay raises get final go-ahead from City CouncilBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

City employees will get their promised pay raises next year.

The council voted 6-1 to allow the raises to take effect Jan. 1 for all city employees except 911 dispatchers. Those employees received a $1-an-hour raise  in July.

Unions members cheered the move.

“It’s a step in the right direction and gives hope to city employees,” said Jason Winsky, government-affairs director for the Tucson Police Officers Association. “The employees across the board are very encouraged by the council showing courage today by approving the pay increases.”

The raises will add $11 million a year to the city’s payroll costs,  which will have to be absorbed when the council tackles balancing next year’s budget.

Council members varied on how that may get accomplished.

Councilman Steve Kozachik  warned the pay raises could mean a return to furloughs or outright layoffs.

He said he can’t see the city finding enough money to cover the ballooning pension costs, the $1 billion in unmet needs and other challenges next year.

He pointed to the city’s preliminary budget plan, which says the city’s options going forward are increase revenue or cut services or reduce employee compensation numbers.

One of the goals of the city’s new budget plan is to “reshape the city workforce so it is smaller, better trained and better paid.”

Kozachik, who was the lone dissenting vote, said it sounds like coded language for layoffs.

“We just handled the better pay. Now how do you handle the smaller part?” Kozachik said.

While some cuts might be unavoidable in the future, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said, the city has enough money right now to cover the remaining six months in this fiscal year.

He said the city needed to find a way out of the annual talk about budget cuts and focus on increasing the revenue pie. He suggested increasing annexations, capturing future bond dollars and working toward making the streetcar a success could eventually alleviate some of the budget woes.

Chief Financial Officer Kelly Gottschalk, who advised against the pay raises, said the city still faces a looming budget deficit next year and the council will have to decide what stays and what goes when budget talks begin.

Kozachik was frustrated by what he felt was inconsistent information coming from the city staff .

“What they tell council offices in private and what they tell employees or what they say in public is different,” Kozachik said. “Behind closed doors they tell us one thing. Then, at the meetings, they dance around the issue.”

He said that needs to change before budget talks ramp up, and all departments need to come clean with budget numbers.

“If staff wants us to believe them, they need to speak with one voice,” Kozachik said. “They need to lay all the cards out on the table. We’ll make the policy. (They) make the data.”

PAY RAISES VARY

The amount of the pay bump employees see will vary depending on their position.

All non-public-safety employees receive 55 cents more an hour.

Most commissioned police and firefighters hired before January 2011 will receive step increases of 5 percent or 2½ percent at the start of next year, which for most is more than 55 cents an hour. Those hired after January 2011 or who are at the top of the pay scale will receive a 55-cent-an-hour raise.

Police lieutenants and fire battalion chiefs get a percentage increase based on the closest non-exempt rank in their departments.

CITY PROPERTY SOLD

The council also voted to sell its property on North Tyndall Avenue  south of Speedway for $1.5 million.

Core Campus, a private dorm developer that owns property near the 1023 N. Tyndall Avenue property, purchased the land.

The city also received property at 1001 N. Alvernon Way as a part of the deal.

The city currently leases the building on Tyndall Avenue to Direct Center for Independence, an advocacy organization specializing in assisting people with disabilities.

Direct signed a dollar-a-year lease with a 99-year term in 1983.

The deal requires Core Campus to pay for relocating the center.

FOUR MORE YEARS

Council members Richard Fimbres, Karin Uhlich and Kozachik were sworn in Monday morning at the Tucson Convention Center for new four-year terms.

All three handily won reelection in November.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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