Friday furloughs ending for city workersBy ANTHONY WARREN,
After two years, Jackson’s Friday Furloughs are slated to end October 1, with the passage of the 2017-18 budget.
The Jackson City Council approved a $364 million budget last week.
The budget goes into effect October 1, meaning that the last Furlough Friday for city employees will be this month.
The budget included a two-mill property tax increase, which was needed to end the furloughs and to give some public works employees a pay raise.
The budget will be posted to the city’s Web site on October 1, according to Kai Williams, Jackson’s communications manager.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the new budget will help the city begin doing business better, especially in areas like filling potholes.
“I know the amount of calls each of you receive in your wards for the things that are not being taken care of … potholes that are not being repaved on time,” Lumumba told the council. “That’s a direct impact on the fact we have vacancies in public works.
“This budget looks at a strategy on how we fill those vacancies and how we are (going to be) more competitive with the companies (our public works employees) go to.”
Lumumba was referring not only to ending the furlough Fridays, but also plans to give public works field technicians a pay raise.
The field technicians are some of Jackson’s hardest workers, but are some of the lowest paid.
They work in all weather conditions and do some of the most demanding work, including paving streets, filling potholes and replacing burst water and sewer lines.
Most of them earn in the low $20,000s annually, city documents show.
The new pay scale eliminates the lowest two rungs of pay and moves all front-line workers to at least the third level, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine told the Sun previously.
“Essentially it gives a raise to everyone (who is now) on the first two rungs,” he said.
The increases are needed to help Jackson maintain its current staffers, who often are picked off by the private sector.
“This is … a matter of retaining the quality workforce we already have. Our salaries are not competitive with private industry. Our workers get recruited away because our salaries are so low,” Blaine said.
According to a 2016 open record request, of the department’s then 143 maintenance workers, 83 made less than $21,000 a year, or around $10.10 an hour.
Based on those numbers, a $1 an hour increase would equate to a roughly 9.9 percent pay increase.
Low pay and Furlough Fridays have been cited as factors leading to a decrease in public works employees in recent years.
The city ended fiscal year 2016 with 157 employees, down nearly 240 from the year before, according to the Jackson’s 2016 annual audit.
Under the furlough program, city employees were required to take off one Friday a month without pay. For workers making $21,000 a year, the furlough meant roughly a $970 a year pay cut.
To help offset the increased spending, Jackson increased taxes by two mills.
For residents with homes valued at $300,000, the additional millage would mean a roughly $60 increase in annual property taxes.
The furloughs were implemented in 2015 by former Mayor Tony Yarber. Under the program, most city employees were required to take one Friday a month off without pay. The plan saved the cash-strapped city approximately $1.8 million a year.
Lumumba said during his campaign that he would end the furloughs, in part, to improve employee morale.
In August, the new mayor told the council that the furloughs also affected the city’s credit ratings.
Ratings from agencies like Moody’s Investors Service help determine, among other things, interest rates on bonds. A stronger rating means borrowing money at a lower interest rate, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars or more over the life of a bond.
“We’ve had a conversation with Moody’s, our accrediting agency, and at this point, it has indicated that it is not attractive to have a furlough. It gives an impression that the city doesn’t know how to manage its finances. (Ending the furloughs) would be beneficial to employees and our overall long-term financial strategy.”
In August 2016, Moody’s downgraded the city’s general obligation bond status from A3 to Baa2, and gave the city a “negative outlook,” citing the “potential for further deterioration of the city’s financial position given management’s inability to adapt to changing financial realities over the past few years.”
Last week, Lumumba said the outlook had been changed from “negative” to “stable.”
Voting in favor of the budget were council members Ashby Foote, Virgi Lindsay, Melvin Priester, Aaron Banks and Charles Tillman. Councilmen Kenneth Stokes and De’Keither Stamps voted against it.
The fiscal year runs from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018.