Decorah City Council member Jody Niess knows most of her constituents aren’t getting a budgeted 5 percent raise this year so she said she couldn’t recommend giving city employees one.
Niess, chair of the Council’s personnel committee, made a motion Monday night to fully fund merit raises for supervisory and non-union staff who meet the criteria, but to cut an additional 1.93 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), based on the consumer price index, to .5 percent. It passed on a 3-2 vote. Niess and Council members Paul Wanless and Bill Wagner voted in favor of the motion, while Gary Rustad and Randy Schissel voted against it.
The average raises for affected personnel will be 3.5 percent, according to Wanless. Had the COLA been fully funded, the average increase would have been about 5 percent.
“Five percent is a lot when you consider the people paying those wages – the taxpayers – none of them are receiving a 5 percent increase. It doesn’t lessen the work anyone does, everyone is working doing their jobs,” Niess said.
“Five percent for everyone seems to be a little bit out of line. I know union people are getting 6 percent and that’s way out of line,” Niess said.
Council members Tade Kerndt and Chuck Lore were not at Monday’s meeting, but Niess read a letter from Kerndt, which stated he supported the merit funding, but did not support providing a COLA.
Rustad said the Council budgeted earlier this year to fully fund merit increases and COLAs. He said he knows the city is not required to spend that money but questioned where the “extra money” would go.
“The money will go into the general fund,” Wanless said.
For more than 10 years, the Council has budgeted for 5 percent increases but never allocated the entire amount for raises, he said.
“The money stayed there in the general fund just like it always does,” Wanless said.
“We need to look at our pay steps and merit steps and try to come up with an easier solution,” Rustad said.
Rustad commented the Decorah School District is dealing with a similar situation with pay raises.
“We wrestle with this situation every year. We want to make it fair for everybody involved. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to come up with a program that seems to be fair for everybody,” Rustad said after the meeting.
The employees raises were not available at press time for today’s Journal. City officials were refiguring the salary table based on the reduced .5 percent COLA and determining which employees had earned merit increases. They will be published in a future edition.