PUB budget proposal freezes merit raises

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg Utility Board staff on Wednesday presented a 2014-15 budget that suspends merit pay raises and increases operations and management expenses by a little over $7,000 from the current year.

Board members discussed the budget proposal with the staff during Wednesday’s meeting and plan to vote on the roughly $22 million spending plan on May 7.

The board was criticized by some Parkersburg City Council members during consideration of a sewer rate increase request earlier this year for granting employees raises that exceeded those given to city employees.

An autonomous entity that relies on council to set its rates, the board has granted employees pay increases equal to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (C.O.L.A.) since 2004. Merit pay increases have also been possible based on evaluations.

But PUB manager Eric Bennett is recommending the latter policy be suspended.

“You’ve got City Council who had an issue with PUB employees having the ability to get two pay increases in a year,” he said. “The merit system was not as effective as … what we would have hoped it would be.”

Bennett said one problem is that once a merit increase has been granted it cannot be revoked, even if the quality of the employee’s work decreases.

Board Vice Chairman John Lutz agreed the policy needs revisited.

“At this point, with the budget constraints everybody has, I think it’s a reasonable thing to do, and the employees still get the C.O.L.A. increase,” he said.

This year that amounts to a 1.5 percent raise, which Bennett said in a memo to board members would add $59,391 to the budget, about 0.7 percent of the total.

But operations and management is only expected to increase $7,119, or 0.9 percent above the current year’s totals. A portion of the increase will be offset by operational changes, including leaving some positions unfilled.

“All in all, I think these changes in personnel and positions are going to make for a more efficient operation,” Lutz said.

The board will receive approximately $430,000 in additional revenue from the first step of the sewer rate hike that goes into effect July 1. The increase, which will take the cost of an average residential bill for 4,000 gallons of water in a month from $36.59 to $44.44 by July 1, 2017, was requested to address required capital improvements, debt service and rising prices. It was approved by council 5-4 in February.

The board’s capital expenditures budget was $4,505,585 this year, but will increase to $7,378,070 in 2014-15 as an upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant gets under way. It’s part of a federally mandated project to eliminate wet-weather overflow into the sanitary sewer system and will be paid for through a low-interest loan from the state.