Council looks at wages and benefits

May 03, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


Health insurance and higher wages in the city's budget drew spirited discussion among the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday.

Not long after hearing that employee benefits changes could leave a $5.3 million budget hole in about two years, the city council read a report showing the latest shortfall to be far less.

A second summary showed the possible shortfall dropping from $4.3 million to $205,000 at the end of the next fiscal year by reconfiguring the city's health insurance program.

Although the insurance change won't be part of the next fiscal budget, the city council considered it Tuesday because employees want it tied to a wage study.


Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the city has found that it annually has overpaid employees on benefits but has underpaid employees on salaries.

The city council is working this month toward creating a 2006-07 budget.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman has proposed a $134.4 million budget with no increase in the property tax rate.

However, his proposed budget does not address what council members have said are two top priorities: hiring more employees for the police and fire departments, and raising the compensation of underpaid city employees.

Each of those alternatives would require a tax increase, under proposals Zimmerman has outlined.

Metzner has said he'd support a tax increase to hire public safety employees. However, other council members so far have pledged to avoid a tax increase at all costs.

The council has until the end of the month to finalize a budget.

On Tuesday, the council discussed the results of a compensation study done by Springsted Inc. of Richmond, Va.

Council members Kelly S. Cromer and Alesia D. Parson-McBean questioned aspects of the study, but said that doesn't mean they oppose the concept of paying employees more-competitive wages.

Metzner said he firmly supports the study and its results, but Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he does not.

A few city employees who helped with the study expressed frustration as they addressed the council.

"I just feel like a lot of our effort went for naught," said Wayne Hose, the president of the union local representing the city's police department.

The compensation study group's work is "apparently null and void," said Todd Grimes, the vice president of the union local representing the city's firefighters.

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