Mayor seeks raises for water, road workers

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson’s road and water workers could soon be getting more than a dollar-an-hour pay raise, as part of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s 2018 budget.

The new mayor is proposing restructuring the pay scale in public works, which would result in higher salaries for the department’s field technicians.

Field technicians are some of the city’s hardest workers, and responsible for repairing water and sewer lines, filling potholes and paving streets. At the same time, they’re some of the lowest-paid workers, earning in the low $20,000s annually.

“We’ve proposed the elimination of the first two salary scales … Essentially it gives a raise to everyone (who is now) on the first two rungs,” Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine said.

All current field technicians would be moved to the third tier, and all incoming workers would automatically start at the third tier of pay, he said.

Public works has approximately 30 field technicians, of which at least 20 are on the first two tiers.

 

Blaine said the raise is in addition to the mayor’s plans to end the monthly furloughs, which will essentially give all employees a pay raise.

The increases are needed, in part, to make Jackson more competitive with the private sector, he said. Additionally, the city is trying to stop the hemorrhaging of employees – public works lost more than half of its staff between fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

“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.

Even with the increase, salaries would be well below the regional and national averages. According to payscale.com, the average salary for a public works laborer is more than $15 an hour. A 2015 article in Public Works Magazine states that the average salary for public works technicians in the Southeast was around $44,000 a year.

 

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. 

In addition to increases for front-line workers, the mayor also is proposing ending the furlough program as part of next year’s budget.

To offset savings associated with the furloughs, Lumumba is asking the council to approve a three-mill property tax increase.

For residents with homes valued at $300,000, the additional millage would mean a roughly $90 increase in annual property taxes.

The budget must be approved by September 15, and will go into effect on October 1.

 

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