Members of the Mobile City Council discussed raises for public works employees, level funding for the library and a $550,000 increase for Ladd-Peebles Stadium as amendments to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed 2019 budget in a working session of its finance committee Tuesday afternoon.
Raises for public works employees appeared to be the most passionately debated issue among councilors, with a number of members staying after the meeting’s official adjournment to discuss the issue.
Several councilors had asked members of Stimpson’s administration to put together a total figure needed to raise funds for the department similar to what police officers and firefighters received during last year’s budget negotiations.
On Friday, the city forwarded to the Mobile County Personnel Board a proposed incentive plan for the employees that would award a series of bonuses those who met a wide-range of criteria while on the job.
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said incentives in the program included extra money for full attendance, exposure to the elements, working without injury and several other examples. While there is a $1,000 limit per year on bonuses related to a safety program, other incentives were not limited, Wesch said.
The Personnel Board will have the ultimate decision on whether it is implemented. Wesch said the funding for the incentives is included in the proposed budget.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said he doesn’t believe the incentive plan goes far enough to help the employees who have been asking for raises and reporting problems to councilors for the better part of a year.
“I don’t disagree with this incentive program, but I think it ought to be in addition to a raise,” Manzie said. “This all sounds well and good, but it’s not a raise. We’ve been screaming raises for six months.”
Following adjournment, Councilman John Williams approved of the incentive program, comparing it to merit raises.
Manzie told a number of his colleagues he was concerned with the optics of giving this particular group of employees an incentive package when it wasn’t available for any other departments.
Councilman Fred Richardson told administration officials he wanted public works employees to have a raise. Councilman C.J. Small raised concerns that Stimpson or current public works Director John Peavy could eliminate the program at any time. City Attorney Ricardo Woods told Small the language in the incentive program was standard among all departments.
Councilman Joel Daves, chairman of the finance committee, told his colleagues the police and firefighter raises were different because councilors were presented with data to confirm that the public safety employees were paid less in Mobile than in peer cities. He said data to that effect has not been presented in reference to public works employees.
Williams argued data could be manipulated by removing certain employee data and that it wasn’t always reliable.
Some councilors seemed supportive of increasing the performance contract given to Ladd-Peebles Stadium by $550,000. The 70-year-old stadium is currently budget to receive $200,000 from the city in fiscal year 2019, but this proposal would increase that to $750,000.
Councilman John Williams told reporters after the meeting the funding would help the stadium’s board do what it needs to do to fix up the aging facility. He did not guarantee that the board would receive the funding after 2019.
The council voted down a plan to help the University of South Alabama fund a proposed on-campus stadium. The proposal to contribute a total of $10 million in $500,000 annual installments for 20 years was defeated. The Mobile County Commission has not acted on a similar funding request.
Councilors were also interested in restoring the Mobile Public Library to level funding for 2019. Stimpson’s proposed budget cut the library by $500,000. Library officials had warned that a cut of that magnitude would impact employees and operating hours. The council seems likely to try and restore level funding to performance contracts for nonprofit organizations. The Stimpson proposal had cut most of that funding by 10 percent. Councilors also asked that the Gulf Coast Challenge, a football game held at Ladd between two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, receive $125,000 from the city, which is the same amount given each year to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
In all, it is estimated these amendments could add more than $1.5 million to the budget without the raises. Councilors were hopeful the administration would work with them to find a resolution.
However, the council has asked administration officials for a list of all of the mayor’s appointees who were not hired through the Personnel Board.
Williams said the council would like to make sure that these appointments were followed to the letter of the law. He also added that the council wanted to make sure that any increases in these budget items outweighed cuts made elsewhere.
Wesch told councilors that only eight of these “non-merit” employees had raises in the proposed budgets. He added that Stimpson hadn’t approved these raises, but they had been added to the budget at the department level.
Daves told those in attendance that it was likely the council wouldn’t be able to resolve its issues with the budget by the Oct. 1 deadline. In that case, the city would operate off of the fiscal year 2018 budget.