City worker benefits are key point in budget discussions
BY KAREN J. RILEY — It looks like Hyattsville’s city workers will be getting a little something extra in their paychecks in the next fiscal year.
As the HL&T was going to press, there was mounting evidence that city workers had succeeded in fighting for a 1 percent cost of living increase as part of the city’s $15.95 million budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins on July 1.
No COLA for city workers was one of several cost-saving measures included in the first draft of the 2012 budget drawn up by City Administrator Gregory Rose.
Some budgetary savings were needed, Mr. Rose told the Hyattsville City Council in April, due to a 90 percent increase in workers compensation costs and other expenses at a time when city revenues are all but flat due to the sluggish economy. Revised budget numbers presented to the city council on May 23 showed that even without a COLA, spending would still outpace revenues by $92,796.
Whether to COLA or not has been a nationwide issue, as state and city governments grapple with budget deficits during uncertain economic times. A two-year COLA freeze, imposed late last year by President Barack Obama, is already a reality for the many city residents who work for the federal government.
But city workers have objected to the no COLA plan. “We work hard and provide needed services for the city,” one city staffer, Julia McTague, told the city council on May 23. McTague, flanked by six other city workers, explained that with higher benefit costs already being deducted from workers’ salaries, many staff are experiencing a 2 percent reduction in pay, which is especially difficult for those who have reached the top of their pay grade.
About 10 percent of the city’s police force has reached the top of their pay grade and therefore no longer qualify for a pay increase and yet, “it costs more now than it did last year to heat our homes, to survive and put food on the table,” said Hyattsville Police Sgt. Patrick O’Hagan, president of the city’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Obviously Hyattsville and other governments are going through a trying time, he said. “We understand that, however, Hyattsville is in a much better place than other municipalities.”
City workers received a 1 percent COLA in the 2011 fiscal budget and have generally seen COLAS of about 2 percent to 3 percent on average in recent years, according to City Treasurer Elaine Stookey.
Clearly, incoming Mayor Marc Tartaro agrees a modest COLA for fiscal 2012 is needed. “It’s something we need to do,” he said. He requested new budget calculations that included a 1 percent COLA in 2012. It showed that spending would outpace revenues by $153,151. At least one other city council member, Paula Perry of Ward 4, has also tipped her hand, in favor of a COLA for staff of up to 2 percent.
There were several changes of note in the revised city budget unveiled on May 23, including the decision not to fund one additional police officer. That person would have been hired to oversee a speed camera system, but there has been no clear consensus on the city council about whether to support such a system, Mr. Rose said.
In addition, the revised budget proposal called for a new policy fellow in communications in 2012 who would prepare documents on long-term projects for the council, and a part-time staffer for volunteer services.
The revised budget proposal also contained several significant changes in capital spending, including:
- Delaying the purchase of new trucks to await a fleet study
- Deleting the purchase of a street sweeper
- Moving street construction for University Hills to 2013 because the necessary engineering study won’t be ready for work to begin in 2012
- Adding $38,867 for closed circuit TV
- Spending $32,000 instead of $15,000 for exterior renovations to the deteriorating building at Magruder Park
The City Council is expected to adopt a 2012 budget on June 13.