Little was changed from the city of Mobile’s current budget to next year’s, but during the Sept. 24 City Council meeting several ideas were thrown around including giving raises to the council and mayor and abandoning across-the-board employee raises to increase payments to some retirees.
Ultimately the council approved the budget by a vote of 5-2 with Councilors Bess Rich and John Williams opposing. The budget does include an across-the-board 2.5 percent raise for city employees. City Council President Reggie Copeland spearheaded the only change to the budget, which was originally proposed on Aug. 20.
Copeland recommended taking $72,000 from the Strategic Plan fund and $128,000 from the Ladd-Peebles Stadium’s requested money. The money removed from those areas would go to the Chamber of Commerce and Mobile BayBears baseball team for improvements.
The Chamber of Commerce will receive $40,000 to make up for the money the council has taken away in the past years, Copeland said. The BayBears would get the remaining $160,000 along with $50,000 in next year’s rent waived. City Finance Director Barbara Malcove said the BayBears are current on their rent and the reduction would be from future rent. The BayBears pay $100,000 a year in rent for the stadium.
In December 2010, it came to light that the BayBears owed the city of Mobile $820,000 in rent. The city offered a deal to the team whereby the city forgave the back rent if the club agreed to pay for improvements to roof over the offices in the stadium. The improvements would cost about $900,000, according to the mayor’s office and must be completed by 2017. Read about the BayBears’ rent issues here (http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=4089&sid=1).
The $210,000 from the budget and waived rent will go to improvements the BayBear’s major league affiliate, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have requested. The council approved the recommendation by a vote of 6-1 with Rich opposing.
Copeland said the BayBears have brought home two Southern League Championships and need the facilities improved. The council president also noted the city gave Ladd-Peebles more than $300,000 in 2013 for new turf. While Copeland’s recommendation passed easily, two other councilors’ proposed amendments didn’t even get a second supporter.
First, Williams recommended taking $1,050,653 from the nearly $2.5 million allotment for raises and giving that money to the retired city employees for a 7 percent increase in pay.
“Not everyone in the city deserves a raise … that’s just the reality. There is always going to be someone in some department just doing what they have to. Instead of giving everyone a 2.5 percent raise, we should take $1.05 million and give it to the people who served the city for years,” Williams said. “Then, the money left could be for raises for the city employees who deserve it.”
Under state law, the raise for the retired employees would have to be at least 7 percent. Also, it would only apply to those employees who retired before Oct. 1, 2005, under the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
Several councilors took issue with Williams’ recommendation saying it wasn’t “fair” or the council should “take care of the employees first.”
Williams proved to be the only councilor willing to vote for his recommendation while Councilors Rich, Gina Gregory and William Carroll opposed and Councilors CJ Small, Fred Richardson and Copeland abstained.
The next recommendation, which also failed, was by Richardson who lobbied to give the City Councilors and mayor a raise. But before the vote was cast, Council Attorney Jim Rossler said the vote could not take place.
“The council cannot give itself a raise,” he said. “The raises have to be voted on six months before the election, which would have been in February.”
The matter came before the council on Feb. 26, but Rich held it over, which in effect killed the chance for the raise. Richardson sponsored that ordinance and suggested the pay raise for mayor from $89,000 annually to $116,400 yearly. He also suggested increasing the council’s salary from $19,800 to $30,000.
“We’re talking about other giving other people raises, but I’ve been here 17 years without one raise,” he said. “I want a raise.”
Richardson failed to garner enough votes to make his proposal go through and was the only councilor in support of the recommendation. With Mayor-elect Sandy Stimpson to take office in November, Copeland noted he could make suggested changes to the budget, but it would need a supermajority vote to be approved.
Stimpson has said in the past he would support raises for employees if there is a way to fund them responsibly.