City commission tables wage increase

By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer

  A 1.5 percent cost of living wage increase for all employees was tabled by the Concordia City Commission Wednesday night.
 Rather than going ahead with an across the board 1.5 percent increase, the Commission opted to study a differentiated scale - giving hourly employees a 1.6 percent raise, department heads a 1.4 raise, and the city manager a 1.2 percent increase.
 According to Finance Director Amber Farha, the 1.5-percent increase was already included in the 2014 budget.
 "Given that there have been no major unforeseen overruns in expenses that will not be taken into account by bonding, there is adequate funding available for the 1.5-percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) and maintaining our reserves," Farha said in a memo to the Commission.
 City Manager Larry Uri also presented information to the Commission, at the request of Charles Johnson, on the 1.5 percent increase being divided equally among all the employees, rather than proportionally according to each employee's salary. By taking an average of wages paid to the 55 city employees, each employee would receive a raise of $574 for the year if the raise was divided equally.
 Johnson said the gap between what hourly employees are paid compared to department heads keeps getting larger.
 "If you average the department heads and the hourly employees, the department heads get twice as much, and I don't think they contribute twice as much to the operations of the city," he said.
 Commissioner Marsha Wentz said she disagreed with Johnson.  "They (department heads) have the responsibility of all the employees - making sure they work and do their job, and that isn't easy," she said.
 Christy Hasch said she partially agreed with Johnson, but did not fully agree with a set percentage increase for every employee. She said she had come up with an idea to give raises on a differential scale – 1.6 percent for salary employees, 1.4 for department heads and 1.2 percent for the city manager.
 The total of raises would be less than what the Commission had budgeted for, she said.
"The people at the top of the scale are there because they have specialized training," she said, as to why department heads are paid more. "They have expertise and would be difficult to replace."
 Mayor Tim Parker said he thought Johnson had made valid points. "I can see where we might do this occasionally, but I don't know that it needs to be done every single year," he said. "The numbers Christy threw out there seem fairly fair, but there does need to be a gap between the people at the top with the responsibility."
 The Commission tabled the issue, and will review different rate structures for the raises before taking action at the Dec. 18 meeting.
In other business, the Commission approved an engineering contract with Professional Engineering Consultants for work the company will do to determine the best way to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. In the near future, Uri said, the city will be required to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from the water it discharges into the Republican River. For $54,500 PEC will help the city find the best way to do that, as well as improve the electrical system at the plant.
 The Commission also approved easements from the Kansas Department of Transportation for the flood control project. Uri said this was the last item to be resolved regarding property rights to build the 21st Street and Plum Road dams. The land where the Plum Road dam will be built is owned by KDOT, Uri said, and the city needs an easement from KDOT to build it. In addition, the city will receive a right to inundate property that is owned by KDOT in the event water goes over the top of either dam.
 The yearly contract with Campbell and Johnson Engineers was also approved for $1,300 a month, which is a $100 increase over last year. Uri said it had been several years since Campbell and Johnson asked for an increase. The company is a constant valuable resource for the city, and is worth the money, Uri said.
 During his manager's report, Uri said he had e-mailed representatives with the Federal Aviation Administration asking if city staff and Commissioners could meet with them regarding a pond at the 21st Street dam. At last month's meeting, Commissioner Lyle Pounds asked Uri to try to set up a meeting with the FFA, in the hopes that they could be convinced to allow the city to build a pond at the dam site.
 Last night, Uri said the FAA's prompt answer was no.
 "They said they didn't see any purpose for a meeting if it would involve us not meeting their requirements," Uri said. "Basically, they don't want to talk to us.

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