FAIRMONT — Although divided over how much of a raise to give town employees, the Fairmont Board of Commissioners approved a 2016-2017 budget in a split vote Tuesday night.
The commissioners voted 4-2 to adopt the budget, with Commissioners Terry Evans, Monte McCallum, Cassandra Gaddy and Amelia McLean voting in favor and Commissioners Charles Kemp and J.J. McCree voting against.
The $3 million budget keeps the town’s current property tax rate of 73 cents per $100 of property, increases fees for reconnecting water accounts and for tampering with meters, and gives employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase.
Kemp and McCree had wanted a 3 percent increase, saying it was unfair to deny employees the additional 1 percent after approving a salary of $62,700 for Town Manager Katrina Tatum. Kemp and McCree say that represents a 16 percent raise over what the town had approved for the position before Tatum’s hiring in February — $26,650 for half of a fiscal year.
McCallum said the new salary doesn’t amount to a raise, but gives Tatum the “asking price” she was told she would earn if she could find sufficient money in the budget.
“To say that we’ve given someone a raise is very, very wrong,” he said.
Directing his comments to Kemp and McCree, McCallum questioned why previous boards had not given employees raises when the town’s finances were better. Employees received a 2.5 percent raise in the 2014-2015 budget. Before that, their last cost-of-living increase was in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, with 4.3 percent. McCree has served on the board for 16 years. Kemp served as a commissioner for 28 years then as mayor from 2005 to 2013.
“We weren’t here, you were. So for all this money you’re talking about for a raise, why didn’t you give it then?” McCallum said.
McCallum said he would like to give employees more in the future, but that the town needs to build its General Fund.
“I love our employees but I feel like the stabilization of this town is what we first have to do,” he said.
Kemp and McCree said the town should be able to find money to pay employees since several major debts were paid off in the last fiscal year, saving about $63,000.
“That type of analogy is not accurate because we’ve included other improvements that are direly needed by Public Works, the Water Department, we’ve included other equipment the Police Department needs,” Tatum said.
The 2 percent increase leaves the budget unchanged, whereas a 3 percent increase would have cost an additional $10,818 over what the town currently pays in salaries.
Kemp called the difference between Tatum’s recently approved salary and what other employees will receive a “fiscal insult.” Town employees stand to earn an average of about $68 more per month with the 2 percent raise.
“I cannot support a budget that doesn’t reward the 31 people who work their hearts out every day for this town,” Kemp said.
McCree maintained that all salary increases should have been considered at once, noting that the manager’s $4,800 car allowance is larger than what other employees will see added to their paychecks. The town has “other issues that need addressing” besides Tatum’s pay, he said, like sewer overflows and high turnover at the Police Department.
“Our police officers are just as important as the town manager,” he said. “If they are leaving because they are underpaid we should have looked at other salaries, not just the town manager.”
No one spoke during a public hearing on the budget, which takes effect July 1. The budget also includes money for repairs at the sewer plant, salary for a full-time police chief and nuisance abatement.
The board also voted unanimously to close two bridges on Floyd and Mitchell streets. A public hearing on the closures drew a crowd of residents who said they’d prefer to see the decaying structures salvaged, at least for pedestrian use, but town officials said doing so was too costly.
In terms of construction costs only, it would cost about $120,000 to repair each bridge for vehicle use and $75,000 to bring each bridge up to the DOT’s standards for a footbridge, Tatum said.
According to Tatum, the town will remove the bridges and place “Dead End” and “No Through Street” signs as well as barricades where they stood.
In other business, the board:
— Tabled a proposed resolution that would allow town employees to put unused sick-leave towards their total years of service in order to redeem post-retirement health insurance, in accordance with state policy.
— Tabled two appointments to the Fairmont Economic Development Committee and amended some regulations for that group. The board needs to appoint members to replace former Chairman Rod Heasley, who according to meeting minutes “abruptly resigned” during a May meeting, and Tony Mackey.
— Agreed to waive interest on back taxes owed to the town by Harger Lightning & Grounding and give the company two years to pay the $62,000 it owes. The property is located in town limits but had not been coded on tax rolls as such. It has already paid about $67,000.
— Approved an updated CDBG Equal Opportunity Plan in accordance with revisions made by the federal government.
— Heard a presentation from Star Baldwin, with Legal Shield, on legal and identity protection services it offers to governments.
— Heard from Fairmont Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Johnson, who said the chamber is seeking volunteers for the annual Farmers Festival.
— Voted to donate unused money raised for the May Day festival to ThunderZone Karate, Fairmont’s American Legion Post, and Thunder Elite basketball team. McCallum, who organized the event, said it raised about $800 more than what was needed for expenses and plans to distribute the money evenly among those organizations.
— Approved an agreement to continue the town’s membership in the Department of Commerce’s Small Town Main Street program.
— Approved an Emergency Action Plan in accordance with new requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.