Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pay raises justified, administrator says

Ketchum defends 2.5 percent pay increase for staff

Express Staff Writer

Gary Marks

The city of Ketchum didn't give its employees a cost-of-living raise at the beginning of the fiscal year last October, but decided to do so at a May 3 City Council meeting, midway through the fiscal year.

This raise comes despite a report by the U.S. Department of Labor that the cost of living has not increased. Therefore, Social Security and military retiree payments have not been increased.

However, Ketchum's 60 employees are receiving a 2.5 percent increase in pay, a total of about $46,000. The council didn't give themselves or the mayor a raise. The money for the raises came from nearly $1 million in hotel development fees and a property lease the city didn't foresee receiving when it planned the 2010 budget.

But, City Administrator Gary Marks said, the raise is for much more than cost of living. The city has gone from 79 to 60 employees since 2006, a one-quarter cut in manpower while still asking its workers to do the same amount of work.

He said the raise is a show of "appreciation" for each city worker's having to carry a "heavier load." Plus, the last cost-of-living raise was in October 2008. Marks said that in the big picture, the recent raise uses only 4.6 percent of $1 million in unforeseen revenue, a small piece of the pie but a worthy use.

"I really do think these people have been doing a phenomenal job," he said.

On the other side of the coin, the Blaine County School District's board of trustees has decided to forego pay raises for all of its employees. However, district Business Manager Mike Chatteron said he doesn't condemn Ketchum for the pay raises.

"You have to look at every government entity separately," he said.

He said the school district has been giving cost-of-living increases "consistently" for the past decade. And it's not that the district couldn't give raises this year, but it's just not the right time. The district will be the victim of $1 million in state funding cuts for the next fiscal year. He said the fact that Ketchum can afford to give raises is a "good thing."

"It means things are looking economically better," Chatterton said, adding that the city staff deserve it.

Most local governments do a budget amendment midway through a fiscal year because they can't predict every dollar coming in or out. Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer said she would draw one up in the last quarter, first getting direction from Mayor Wayne Willich.

In an interview, Willich said he probably wouldn't suggest a cost-of-living increase for Sun Valley employees in a budget amendment. Unlike Ketchum, the city hasn't received large sums of unforeseen money.

"Things have been pretty thin," he said. "It would be a hard sell to the council."

He said the good news is that Sun Valley workers received a 3 percent increase for fiscal 2009, and none need to be laid off this year.

As for other local governments, Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson and Blaine County Chief Deputy Clerk Leslie Londos said neither government entity is giving pay raises for the current fiscal year.

"This was the only year there were no increases," Dawson said, adding that raises are usually between 2 and 6 percent.

Hailey workers received a 6 percent raise in fiscal 2009.

Both said their respective local governments would have budget amendments this summer, but it's not yet been decided whether cost-of-living raises would be handed out.

Trevon Milliard:

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