County employees felt the love on Monday as Mobile County Commissioners announced a surplus of undesignated funds would be used to implement a second 2.5 percent pay raise on Valentine’s Day — a full two months ahead of schedule.Commission President Connie Hudson said a preliminary report of the county’s year-end finances showed the early raise was within the county’s ability. The action was suggested by Lt. Richard Cayton, president of the Mobile County Merit System Employees Association (MCMSEA), earlier this month because of the a perceived savings on gasoline.
Hudson said the current price of gas was negligible in its impact on the unrestricted fund balance or its carryover, which will ultimately fund the early raises.
Hudson attributed the savings to a combination of “controlling costs, an uptick in sales tax revenues and a one-time sale of county assets,” but county employees are pleased either way.
“We’re feeling good about the fact that the 2.5 percent raise is coming three pay periods before it was officially suppose to go into effect, and that all 1,600 county employees will get it,” Cayton said in response to the move. “We wish to thank the commission for working on it. We have a line of communication going, and hopefully we can work some other things out as well, like our health insurance.”
Cayton is one of a number of merit system employees that began publicly airing grievances with the Commission after the county swapped to the Local Government Health Insurance Plan last April — a change many employees say has increased their personal health care costs.
Those changes, and what some were calling “stagnant” wages, helped spur the once dormant MCMSEA into a membership that currently exceeds 630 members and continues to grow, according to Cayton.
The 2.5 percent raise approved this week was the second Commissioners had planned for the current fiscal year, but the commission went further by announcing at the regular meeting that all full-time county employees would also be extended a one-time bonus of $500 at the end of February.
“It’s nice when all three of us can agree on something, and we all three certainly agreed on this,” District 3 Commissioner Jerry Carl said. “It’s a very positive motion, and from our savings in 2014 we were also able to move some other money around to take care of some debt as well. It’s been a good year for everybody.”
Carl said moving the raise up two months would cost the county $200,000, and the $500 bonus for the 1,600 employees would ring up around $800,000 in total.
A full report on the finances from fiscal year 2014 is expected from Finance Director Michelle Hermon at the Commission’s Feb. 5 conference meeting, which will give more insight into the county’s broader financial picture heading into the remainder of FY 2015.
Cayton was the first to publicly broach the subject of implementing the pay raise in February when he addressed the Commission earlier this month. At the time, he claimed the county’s decrease in fuel expenses due to lower gas prices would be enough to facilitate the increase earlier than was originally planned during the budgeting process last September.
Carl said fuel prices were indeed a factor in the “good year” the county had, but Hudson said it wasn’t the only one.
“It’s a total effect between an uptick in our sales tax revenue, and probably several factors all together that have allowed us to have a balance we can do this with,” Hudson said. “Fuel prices are up and down. Right now, they’re down, but that may not be the case in a month or two. You really can’t do a lot of long-term planning based on current fuel prices.”
Though Cayton and the dozens of other employees of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office that attended the Monday’s meeting are paid by the county, he said those in the MCMSEA look after each other, and said the association was hopeful city employees might see a similar bonus due to a reduction of fuel costs for the city of Mobile.
“This helps the Sheriff’s office because we’ve been having a hard time keeping personnel. Just like in regular business, people go elsewhere for higher pay,” Cayton said. “We all have a goal to get up the ladder and make as much as we can, and that’s why we urge the city council and Mayor (Sandy) Stimpson to take into consideration giving a bonus to all city employees like the county did.”
Following Cayton’s comments, city of Mobile Communications Director George Talbot said lower gas prices have also been good for the city, but claimed there hasn’t been enough time to assess whether the savings could justify pay raise or a one-time bonus.
According to numbers received through the mayor’s office, the city spent $168,160 for diesel fuel and $64,983 on unleaded gasoline in the last two months of 2014. Current gas prices, which are at a five-year low, helped save $9,000 and $18,154.35 for unleaded and diesel fuel respectively.
“The mayor did include a (two-tiered) pay increase for city employees in the budget passed by council back in October, 5 percent in total,” Talbot said. “Because of the improved financial situation in Mobile, the mayor moved up the second part of that raise, which went into effect Jan. 3.”
Talbot said, if possible, Stimpson also hopes include a similar increase in next year’s budget to complete with Mobile’s “peer cities.” However, he said there wasn’t currently any plans for a one-time bonus to city employees.
*Updated Jan. 27 to more accurately reflect statements from the commission*