In an effort to keep the revolving door at city hall as still as possible, the St. Clair Board of Aldermen approved merit raises for three key employees during its most recent meeting.
The raises become effective on Jan. 1.
“These employees deserve the pay increase we gave them,” Mayor Ron Blum said. “When it comes to merit raises, we feel we need to do the best we can to bring our employees up to the levels of what others are making in neighboring communities.”
The individuals receiving the increases were City Inspector Jeremy Crowe, City Clerk Kim French and Court Clerk Cindy Schmitt. Crowe now will earn $40,000 annually, French will make $16 an hour and Schmitt will be paid $30,000 annually.
In the original 2014 St. Clair budget summary, which was put together before the aldermen approved the increases, Crowe was scheduled to make $38,358 next year, French was set to earn $15.09 per hour and Schmitt was to receive $28,246 per year.
“When we hire people, we like to start them off below normal,” Blum told The Missourian. “Then, after we know they can do the job, we try to bring them up more to where they should be.”
The 2014 budget approved on the same night as the merit raises allowed for a 0.6 percent pay increase for all other city employees, minus elected officials.
Before the aldermen made the decision, Blum explained the city’s rationale for the pay hikes.
“Basically, these people do their jobs by themselves,” he said. “And they do an outstanding job. They are key people in our administration who provide necessary services to the community.
“They’re not paid equivalently to the surrounding area, so we decided on the merit raises.”
The decision did not come without some controversy, however, as police clerk Dana Messex Collins addressed Blum and the aldermen about the merit raises during the board meeting.
“I’m not here for me, but I’m here for our police officers,” said Collins, who was accompanied to the meeting by several St. Clair police officers. “They’re doing as much as everyone else. They deserve merit raises, too.
“I don’t think they should be left out of the raises.”
Blum responded by saying that, “It’s a hard thing to do to balance a budget. The last few years, revenues basically have been flat, yet we’ve given approximately 2 percent raises every year. This year, we’re giving 0.6 percent. The rationale is that revenues are not increasing.”
The three aldermen present at the meeting, Nathan Tate and Zach Fuchs in Ward 1 and Ward 2’s Travis Dierker, all supported Blum.
“The mayor and the administration are doing as much as they can to funnel money into everyone’s pocket,” Fuchs said.
“I appreciate each and every one of you,” Tate said to the police officers in the board room. “You put your lives on the line. I can sympathize with you guys. ... I would love to give you a pay raise, but the money is just not there.”
“This isn’t easy by any means,” Dierker said. “I want to make sure you understand that it’s nothing against you that we’re doing this.”
Dierker also said that, “Even through the recession, the last six years roughly all employees have gotten 2 percent raises. That’s 12 percent over six years, plus the compounded amount.”
Dierker also said it’s difficult to put a price on the cost of turnover.
“Turnover in the (administrative) office is very high,” he said. “We have to get that rate up there comparatively so we can keep the good people we have.”
Originally, all hired city employees were scheduled to receive 2 percent pay increases again next year. In his explanation, Blum added that the city uses the guidance of the Consumer Price Index to help determine raises. He said the latest number was the 0.6 percent.
The CPI program produces data on changes in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services.
Police Chief Bill Hammack, who attends all board meetings, addressed the aldermen and city officials as well.
“During our open budget meetings, we talked about a 2 percent raise, 2 percent raise, 2 percent raise. Outside of those meetings, it was dropped to 0.6 percent. Then these merit raises came up. It makes it seem like the (across-the-board) raises were dropped to give merit raises.
“I request that in the future, when considering merit raises, that some protocol be put in place.”
Hammack was referring to consistent employee evaluations.
“If a system was put into place, it would be very beneficial,” he said.
Blum closed the discussion by saying that, “As elected officials, our obligation is to our employees. We take all this seriously, and we pay our people the best we can.
“But we’re also responsible to our citizens. They expect to have good streets, good infrastructure. ... That’s difficult when revenue isn’t growing. It’s very difficult sitting in this seat trying to make everyone happy. It’s a balance.”
Blum did tell The Missourian after the meeting that the money saved by reducing the across-the-board salary increases was earmarked for street improvements.
“We have a lot of streets that need fixing,” he said. “This money will help tremendously.”