ARLINGTON – This time of year, because of Christmas gift buying, many people have buyer’s remorse.
But Arlington City Council Member Marilyn Oertle is having voter’s remorse.
Despite reservations about giving city employees such large pay increases, Oertle voted to approve the budget Dec. 15.
Oertle, who has been on the council for 15 years, said she felt pressured to OK the budget because of Christmas coming up, and it needed to be passed by the end of the year.
“I’m concerned the large salaries are too high for our city,” she said, adding most people in town make closer to $50,000 a year than $150,000.
“I was torn. We waited so long” to vote, she said. “I didn’t want to hash it out in the last hours.”
She said she decided to vote with the majority because she was assured by Mayor Barbara Tolbert and other city officials that Arlington would address the entire pay structure after the first of the year.
Oertle said she wants the council to start looking at the budget in the spring instead of the fall.
“It’s all done in a short period of time,” she said, adding city staff was unable to get her all of the information she needed.
For example, Oertle asked for comparable wages of city officials in towns similar in size to Arlington. She also never received itemized information on exactly what the pay raises would be. Both are common requests in budget and salary negotiations.
Arlington communications director Kristin Banfield said in an email to the Arlington Times that the salary increases are within the pay ranges set up by the city. So the raises are actually standard merit increases.
“The council and mayor work for taxpayers, not to stuff the staff’s pocketbooks,” Oertle said Dec. 16, adding city government is “broken.”
Oertle said it’s not that staff doesn’t deserve any increase, but this is “out of control.”
Oertle said it bothered her that the city increased property taxes to pay for services, not for raises. And she could not even find out what the city administrator was going to make. Oertle said previously she had to find that out on the street.
Oertle wasn’t the only council member against the budget. Debora Nelson previously also had some objections. But like Oertle, she voted with the majority. She said Ellis dropped the pay of the one position she objected to, so she changed her vote.
Tolbert had said previously that the city actually will be spending less on salaries than in 2014. That is because the police chief and fire chief are now combined under Public Safety Director Bruce Stedman and Chris Young has been appointed director of economic and community development, as well as the head of the airport. Arlington will have 126.11 employees in 2015, compared with 128.9, a reduction of 2.69. That will drop payment for salaries 169,048, from $11.12 million to almost $10,952 million.
Oertle argues those savings could go to other needs, rather than salary increases.
Banfield’s email to The Times says the city administrator who replaces Allen Johnson, who is retiring at the end of the year, will make $154,000. The city administrator in Marysville, a town three times its size, makes $161,000 a year. And the governor of the state makes just $170,000.
Other changes: Building Official to Community Development/Airport Director 6 percent raise; Assistant City Administrator moving to HR Director/ Communication has a 6 percent increase; and Community Development Liaison to Permit Center Manager is increasing 4.3 percent.
Banfield’s email says when an employee is re-classified/promoted the pay increase normally is about two steps, or 6 percent. In some cases the pay increase may exceed that due to the complexity of the job.
Following are various Arlington city officials and their monthly salaries. The pay ranges are $8,262-$11,780, except where noted, according to the email.
City Administrator Allen Johnson, $14,167.
Public Safety Director Bruce Stedman, $13,603.
Community Development Director Paul Ellis, $10,780
Finance Director Jim Chase, $10,780
Acting fire chief Tom Cooper, $9,965.
Human Resources and Communications Director Kristin Banfield, $9,300
Information Systems Manager Bryan Terry, $8,021 ($5,794-$8,261).
Six fire captains, $7,523
Mayor Barbara Tolbert, $1,500