By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council, after deciding in December not to approve city staff wage increases for 2012, did an about- face Tuesday and approved an across-the-board 2.5 percent increase for all full-time employees and some part-time employees
The increase was approved on a 3-2 vote, with council members Ron Foust, Eric Angvall, and Bob Messer in favor, and Mayor Andy Heimerl and Council Member Art Mallak opposed.
The increase applies to full-time employees Bob Carlson, Mark Thiry, Preston Voigt, Greg Mueller, Adam Birkholz, and Marilyn Pawelk, and to what Foust described as “full-time part-time” employees” Darla Simon (assistant city clerk), Mike and Reada Lukes (custodians), and Lee Ortloff (public works). The city has other part-time employees who were not included in the increase.
The subject of wage increases was not on the agenda, but was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting at Foust’s request.
The result of the increases for department heads was as follows:
• Police Chief Bob Carlson, who has 11 years of experience, increased from $24.51 per hour plus $7,000 for health insurance (the city does not provide health insurance for employees, but gives them additional compensation to be used toward purchasing their own health insurance) to $25.12 per hour plus $1,800 per year for serving as the city’s emergency management director, plus $7,000 per year for health insurance.
• Maintenance supervisor Greg Mueller, with 23 years of experience, increased from $23.25 per hour plus $7,000 for health insurance to $23.83 per hour plus $7,000 per year for health insurance.
• City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk, who has 31 years of experience, increased from $26.40 per hour plus $7,000 for health insurance to $27.06 per hour plus $7,000 per year for health insurance.
The increase was made effective starting with the current pay period.
The wage numbers do not include all city costs associated with the employees, such as PERA, etc.
“In light of what’s happening with the economy, it seems like it’s getting revved up, it seems like things are going on a little bit smoother, first and foremost I think we need to take care of our city staff,” Foust said, and recommended a 2.5 percent wage increase.
“We vote on raises in January,” Heimerl said. This is setting a precedent it gets voted down once, and we just bring it up again because we didn’t hear what we wanted . . . I’m going to go back to what I said in January. It’s not a slap. It’s not a sign of us not appreciating our employees. It’s just a sign of the times, and I’m sorry but I don’t see the economy rebounding in leaps and bounds like you are saying.”
“You just gave PeopleService 3 percent,” Angvall said.
“We didn’t have much choice because of the contract we signed,” Heimerl replied
“These (employees) are the folks that are in the trenches doing the work day-in and day- out, and they deserve, to me, a 2.5 percent increase,” Foust said.
“I don’t disagree with you . . . ,” Heimerl replied. “I’m in the trenches every single day, too, and so is everybody else in working America, too, in the trenches every day. Some are getting reductions in pay.”
“I think we did vote on this in January,” Mallak said, noting that in the past, the council has considered raise increases at the beginning of the year.
“That’s my biggest complaint, is that we voted on it, it failed, and now we’re back here again,” Heimerl said.
“If we can find money to fund special projects, we should really find money to take care of our own people,” Foust said
“The special projects benefit the town of 1,500,” Heimerl replied.
“So do these guys,” Angvall said.
Mallak expressed concern about the perception that people might have to see the council cut city services, but approve a staff wage increase.
“We cut so much out of the budget to help offset some of the tax increases to the businesses, well, OK, so what are you telling them, ‘OK, business, I’m going to nail you, but I’m going to give you (the city staff) 3 percent over here,’” Mallak said
Foust said the council did not take wage increase out of the budget, so it’s still earmarked for staff wage increases.
Angvall argued in favor of the increase.
“We turn around and give a raise to our building inspector, . . . we gave a raise to PeopleService, we gave a raise to garbage collectors, everybody else that’s working day-in, day-out for the city doing different things have all got raises, they have contracts maybe we should have a union,” Angvall said.
“The Consumer Price Index is 3 percent, you’re giving them (employees) 2.5 percent. In theory, they’re still getting a cut,” Angvall said.
“It’s going to be a hard sell if we do this now, because I’ll tell you frankly I’ve had about 10 to 15 people that have called me and said we were nuts to get rid of the mosquito spraying, and now if they read in the paper that employees got a 2.5 percent increase . . .” Mallak said.
“Does that mean that every year we don’t have mosquito spraying, we don’t give our employees raises?” Foust responded.
Heimerl said his objection to the increase was not about job performance.
“Whichever way this goes, I’ve talked to Marilyn (Pawelk, city clerk) and I’ve talked to Bob (Carlson, police chief), . . .” Heimerl said. “I support them fully. It has nothing to do with how I feel about the job they are doing or how much we appreciate them, but I’m sorry, you can read in the paper, you can probably buy the paper tomorrow again and see that people are getting reductions in pay. We’ve still got people that are losing jobs.”
“This is not a huge increase 2.5 percent is not a huge increase,” Foust said.
“Zero is less, and that’s what I’m getting,” Heimerl replied.
The last wage increase the council approved was a 4 percent pay increase for all city employees for 2011.
Lester Prairie currently has six full-time and four part-time employees affected by the increase.