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Parkersburg mayor delays employee raises

Cites uncertainty over revenue due to COVID-19

PARKERSBURG — A 2 percent pay raise for City of Parkersburg employees that was supposed to take effect Wednesday has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Tom Joyce announced Monday morning his decision to delay the wage increase approved by City Council for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins July 1. He cited the uncertainty over the effects of business closures and service reductions during the pandemic on revenue sources like the municipal sales tax, business and occupation tax and police, fire and sanitation fees.

“We close our fiscal year out (today), but we won’t know the budgeting impact the pandemic has had until, quite frankly, into September,” Joyce said.

The raises are not being eliminated, just delayed, he said. He recommends revisiting the situation by the end of the first quarter, which is Sept. 30.

As budgeted, the raise would cost $213,514 over the full year and $53,378.50 per quarter, Finance Director Eric Jiles said.

The municipal sales tax and B&O tax are collected quarterly, so the money coming in over the next three months will be based on activity in April, May and June. Many restrictions were placed on businesses to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, and most did not begin to lift until May.

“Common sense tells you with businesses that were either completely shuttered or operating at 50 percent capacity, how can we not be negatively impacted?” Joyce said.

The raises were proposed and approved during this year’s budget hearings based on a wage study the city commissioned that recommended annual pay increases to help city wages come in line with market rates. Joyce said he remains committed to that plan but it was a long-term effort to address recruiting and retention that did not take the pandemic into account.

“This is an unprecedented event,” he said.

In May, Parkersburg City Council approved the administration’s recommendation to cut the current fiscal year’s budget by nearly $2 million, with a little more than $1 million from the stabilization fund offsetting it.

Although council allocated funds for the raise, the mayor is charged with implementing the budget and can also choose not to implement parts of it, City Attorney Joe Santer said.

Council President Mike Reynolds said Monday that the mayor’s decision makes sense so that the city can “make sure we’re not getting ourselves into too deep of a hole.

“I think it’s probably pretty smart, even though it’s not going to be a very popular decision,” he said.

Reynolds said he anticipates city officials will look at other budget changes as well.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl, who chairs the Personnel Committee, said she understands Joyce’s rationale but disagrees with the course of action.

“That is money that was promised to our employees, that they were counting on,” she said.

Kuhl said the raise should at least go into effect for employees of the Police, Fire and Sanitation departments, who continued as essential workers while others operated on reduced schedules while the Municipal Building was closed to the public.

Joyce said he respects Kuhl’s opinion but there is too much uncertainty about municipal revenue to do that.

“We don’t know what our revenues are going to be,” he said.

Wayne White is president of International Association of Firefighters Local 91, a fraternal organization whose members include Parkersburg firefighters but is not a recognized bargaining unit.

“My first reaction is like really surprised because it’s supposed to go into effect in two days,” he said.

Joyce, who said employees were informed of the decision Monday, apologized for the “late notice.”

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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