City pay raises balloon to $11M

Council votes to reward staff with new plan, up from $5.3M
2013-05-15T00:00:00Z 2013-05-15T12:54:30Z City pay raises balloon to $11MDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Pay raises the City Council thought would total $5.3 million when it approved them last month are now going to cost taxpayers $11 million a year.

Despite the higher cost estimates, the council voted 6-1 to scrap the previously approved 55-cent-an-hour across-the-board increase. In its place, the council approved a proposal by City Manager Richard Miranda that retains the 55-cent-an-hour raise for most workers but provides significantly larger raises for most public safety dispatchers and commissioned officers.

When the council first approved raises, the cost was estimated at $5.3 million a year. But that didn't include Tucson Water, city golf and environmental services, which are funded with their own fees, raising the total to $8 million.

While Miranda's plan pushes costs up another $3 million, it contains a provision for the council to come back in the fall and rescind the raises if the city can't find money to pay for them. Most of the increases won't take effect until Jan. 1, which will lessen the first-year financial impact.

The major exception is 911 dispatchers, who will see a dollar an hour increase beginning July 1.

Commissioned police and firefighters hired before January 2011 will receive step increases of 5 percent or 2.5 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.

Miranda said these adjustments reward employees who suffered through years of stagnating wages and help retain workers thinking about fleeing the city for better opportunities.

"It is imperative to recognize our employees are our greatest asset and must provide an investment in them," Miranda said during the meeting.

A spokesman for the police union said it's not everything they were looking for, but it's a start.

"We were asking for the step system be restored," said Richard Radinsky, Tucson Police Officers' Association grievance chairman. "It seems like it's an open-ended promise, and we hope that it follows through. I don't want to be told in October or November that we're going to end up with nothing. We hope the promise pans out. It's a beginning. By no means is it an end. … It begins to take some of the pressure off those officers from leaving this department for better-paying jobs."

The lone dissenting vote, Councilman Steve Kozachik, said the city is already staring at huge deficits for next year, and this additional burden only hastens the likelihood of the council making "unpalatable" decisions such as furloughs or layoffs to balance the budget next year.

Councilman Paul Cunningham, who voted against previous pay raises, said he supported this proposal because it provides an option for the city to pull the plug if the money's not there.

"I wish I could have chopped it up and voted on the parts separately," Cunningham said. "Even though it was an all-or-nothing proposal, it left a trap door for us to escape if we need to."

However, other council members believe the raises are long overdue.

"We're rebounding. The city's moving forward ... and we have to send a message to our employees about how much we value them," Councilman Richard Fimbres said.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild compared the compensation plan to what any good business would do.

"You're not committed to salaries forever," Rothschild said. "From the world I come from, if you have a decent year, and the truth of the matter is the city did have a decent year, you reward your employees. If you don't have a decent year, then ... we're all in this together. That's the philosophy I'm going to use. And that's why I very much appreciate the kind of nuanced approach that staff took on this."

On StarNet: To read more local government news, go to azstarnet.com/politics

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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