PARKERSBURG - It wasn't on the agenda Tuesday, but the raises given to employees at the Parkersburg Utility Board were still a hot topic of discussion among members of Parkersburg City Council. Several council members were none too pleased to discover PUB employees will receive a 3.6 percent cost-of-living allowance, and three managers were allotted 6.4 percent merit pay raises. The new raises go into effect July 1.
Council member John Sandy said he's not opposed to the raises, but the amount.
"I find that excessive," he said.
Council members Sharyn Tallman, Sharon Lynch, Nancy Wilcox and Sandy, all of whom voted against the utility board's 2010 request for a water rate increase, were questioning the PUB's wages.
"I am not trying to tell them how to run their business or how to pay their employees. I was questioning the amount based on what our residents pay in water fees," Lynch said.
At the April 13, 2010, regular meeting, council approved a three-year, stepped water-rate increase, which amounted to a total of $11.19 over three years. Customer rates increased $6.13 the first year, $3.25 the second year and will rise by $1.81 the third year.
It was the first water rate increase since 2004.
Tallman, who has served on council for a decade, said when council approved the rate increase in 2004, members never considered the money would go to salaries.
"So I asked the question in 2010," she said.
Tallman had asked the minutes from the 2010 meeting be pulled for review.
During that meeting, Tallman asked Eric Bennett, Parkersburg Utility Board manager, how much of the increase would go to employee raises. Bennett said none in the current fiscal year or the next. The newly instituted raises won't go into effect until July 1.
"When you turn around and tell me it is not going to be used for raises and they use it for that?
"They got it in there," Tallman said.
Bennett also told council he had no control over cost-of-living increases given to employees. He said the PUB board of directors decided pay increases. And they look at the Social Security cost-of-living allowance (COLA). PUB employees have not received a COLA increase for two years.
Mayor Bob Newell serves on the utility board as the non-voting chairman.
"What he said was right in that meeting," Lynch said of Bennett.
While council members were complaining about the PUB raises, they unanimously approved a 20-cent-an-hour base wage increase for employees. The increase comes little more than a year after city council instituted the $2.50 a-week user fee.
Lynch and Wilcox said the user fee is being used for streets and infrastructure improvements, not raises.
User fee collections go into the general fund, not a special account. It's the same fund from which the city draws its payroll.
Sandy said the city's 20-cents-an-hour raises unanimously approved by council amounted to 1 percent, compared to 3.6 percent give to utility board workers.
Lynch also questioned the raises for the manager, assistant manager and comptroller.
Parkersburg Utility Board member Greg Herrick said the trio had not received a raise in five years. Herrick said he also checked around the state and compared salaries of the three against others in the state.
In May, city council's Personnel Committee, chaired by Lynch and of which Sandy is a member, agreed to look at across-the-board pay raises for employees and a reclassification of positions that could result in base pay raises greater than the annual longevity raises that council has suspended.
Lynch even submitted possibilities to the committee that included an increased base rate, plus a 1 percent increase on the base.
Tuesday, Lynch said what the city is doing is different from what Herrick and the board did with its employees. Wednesday, she softened her claim.
"I guess in a way it is (the same)," she said. "But what we want to do in the city is look at every job, every position and see where each employee classification fits into the market and then make our recommendations for the salaries for those positions and see if we have the money to do that.
"In the city we are in a process of looking at every position and comparing it to comparable cities," she added.
Tallman said it's too late to do anything now.
"The financial report came in last week. The raises go into effect July 1. What are we going to do?
"I wish we could get some legal advice."
"I don't begrudge people getting their raises if they are working hard, but the disparity between what we can offer and what they offer is a big difference," she added.