Hartselle delays vote on 7% raise for retirees
By Deangelo McDaniel
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HARTSELLE — It may be at least two more weeks before 24 retired city employees know if they will get a 7 percent raise retroactive to Oct. 1, 2006.
Council President Kenny Thompson wanted to suspend the rules and put the item on the agenda for immediate action. But, according to state law, he needed a council majority to agree, and Councilman Bill Smelser voted against acting on the raise Tuesday night.
Smelser said he voted against immediate action because he wants to follow Mayor Dwight Tankersley’s recommendation of giving retirees the raise effective Oct. 1, 2007.
Had the council voted to spend $20,000 and backdated the raise to October, it would have given retired employees more in raises since 2000 than it has given current employees.
“I don’t think this is being equitable,” Tankersley said of making the raise retroactive.
The proposed raise would have meant payments to retirees would have increased 18 percent since 2000. The increase in pay for current employees during that same period has been 17.5 percent.
The current administration has voted one 4 percent raise for retirees, while giving current employees a 5.5 percent increase during the same period.
Thompson, a retired school administrator who, like all state employees, received a 7 percent hike in October, backed the raise for retired city employees.
“I just don’t understand why people are getting upset,” he said, referring to comments the council has received from some current employees.
When asked about the fairness of the proposed 7 percent retiree raise, Thompson said, “Retirees don’t make as much as people who are working. I have talked with some of the employees in the field, and they don’t mind what we are doing because they want the city to take care of them when they retire.”
But the council majority wasn’t in favor of the raise when it surfaced at the city’s Monday work session.
June Austin, a retired city receptionist, spoke for retirees. She said Thompson told her to come to the meeting.
“I think ya’ll have wasted enough money to give us a 7 percent raise,” she said. “This means a lot to us, and we have earned it.”
Mike Dowdy, a Hartselle resident who has been critical of the current administration, joined Austin’s campaign for the raise.
“I’ve heard three different stories, and I wanted to know how this got left out of the budget,” he asked.
“I have to be honest, I just let it slip through the cracks,” Thompson said.
“So, ya’ll dropped the ball,” Dowdy said.
Thompson polled the council, and only he and Councilman Bill Drake were willing to vote for the raise.
Drake said he supported the increase because he was not aware until Monday that retirees had received only one raise since 2002. He said he was not swayed by any comments made at the meeting.
“I’m not sure I can say whether it’s fair or not fair,” Drake said.
The other councilman agreed to revisit the issue after they’ve discussed the capital improvement budget.
At the end of the discussion Tuesday, Councilman Samie Wiley, who supported Tankersley’s recommendation initially, said he wanted to go ahead and add the $20,000 for retirees.
“I think overall the retirees and employees were treated right,” Wiley said.
Hartselle may have to deal with another raise for retired employees next year. Gov. Bob Riley has not talked about or released any budget figures for 2007-08, but state employee groups already are campaigning for another raise. Also, Alabama Education Association Executive Director Paul Hubbert has said he wants a 7 percent raise next year for current and retired school employees.
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