Kodiak’s city employees are getting a pay raise, but passage of the wage hike came after lengthy – and at times impassioned – debate, and a tie breaking vote from the city’s mayor.
Kodiak City Council members agreed on one thing at Thursday’s meeting – city employees deserve a raise. But how and when to fund that pay bump was a sticking point. Council agreed that the city could afford the raises. They’ll cost less than half of the original $1.2 million it was projected to cost through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The heart of the disagreement was about the transparency of bringing the pay raises to a vote before a draft of the next fiscal year’s budget was presented to Council. Councilmember John Whiddon advocated postponing a vote on the raises until May after the budget comes out.
“The public and employees should be aware of the impacts of any budget decisions before the proposed wage increases are approved,” said Whiddon.
Councilmembers Stanford and Bishop also agreed that it could be premature. That led to deadlock on whether to postpone the raises. Mayor Pat Branson cast the tie breaking vote against kicking it to a later date. In a follow up vote, Council was split again on passing the ordinance right away. And again, Branson was the deciding vote for the pay raises to take effect next month.
Kodiak’s City Council has been considering adjusting wages for city employees for several years. A study commissioned by the city last year found that while Kodiak has invested in comprehensive benefits packages for its employees, wages have fallen behind compared to a dozen other Alaska communities, including Kenai, Homer and Sitka.
During the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting, several members of Kodiak’s police and fire departments spoke out in favor of passage. They said high employee turnover and stagnant wages were causing burnout within the departments.
“The money that is having to be spent to train new people to serve other communities and the overtime and wear and tear on the current people that are here and are working – you’re burning people out,” said Kodiak police officer Samantha Talley.
But some accused councilmembers of not being fiscally responsible. Kodiak resident Paul Van Dyke warned of political consequences for the city council to take action before drawing up next year’s budget.
“For those members who vote for the pay scale increases tonight, you may be subject to a recall,” he said.
Branson said her vote came down to treating city employees well and retaining them – and it was better for Kodiak’s economy in the long run. She said the budgetary process for passing the pay hikes was no different than other years.
“I still believe and the logical way to approach a budget is to have your known costs first. This would be a known cost,” she said. “I believe you can base a budget now as we go into the budget process based on known costs, I would direct the staff to do that.”
Thursday’s vote means city staff will see a raise starting at 2.5% on their paychecks at the end of next month. Pay hikes for the next fiscal year will be factored into a draft budget put together by city staff and presented to the Council for a vote later this spring. The next fiscal year begins July 1.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount raises will cost the city. Raises will cost the city less than half of the $1.2 million that was originally estimated when the issue was first brought to Council through the end of the fiscal year. City employees will not be receiving a 12% raise across the board.