Annual city employee bonuses remain in Van Buren budget

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 143 views 

The city of Van Buren has continued a long tradition of providing $100 annual bonuses to its employees, even as the city's budget could be impacted by a rise in healthcare costs next year.

According to Mayor Bob Freeman, 132 employees will receive $100 bonuses just as the city has done for the last 30 years. The funding for this year's bonus was included in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

As for whether the tradition will continue at the same rate it has since 1984, he said it was too early to tell.

"Like I said, it was in the budget and we'll examine for next year also," he said, adding that an increase to the city's health insurance premium of $133,000 has to be considered when looking at the overall budget situation for fiscal year 2015.

The rise in health insurance rates coupled with only a modest increase in sales tax revenues of $120,000 for the year means that Freeman could bring up a discussion he had in May when news of the health insurance hikes were first brought to the city council. At that time, Freeman said it could be time to explore city employees possibly taking on some of the cost associated with insuring dependents and spouses. The city now funds all premiums for those on city health insurance.

"In May, I talked about moving forward, the employees need to pick up (the tab) for the family portion," he said. "The council put it off to see what would happen with any further increases."

Premium increases, he said, would not be happening again for the time being, but the increase earlier in the year had put a dent in the city's finances.

"But we need to examine it and that's something we need to talk about," he said of the idea of family insurance premiums not being paid in full by the city.

Freeman, whose FY2014 budget was set at $12.078 million and included a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 1.5% for all city employees, said a final determination on pay raises for the 2015 budget year had not yet been determined.

"At this point, I don't know (what we'll do about raises). I want to talk to the city council and give them a couple of different options," he said.

While the 2014 COLA was 1.5%, he said 2013 was a 2% COLA.

"But there are some years we've not given anything," he said, pointing to 2011 and 2012.

The pay raises the last two budget years have been tied, he said, to the cost of living raises given to Social Security recipients.

It is known at this point if the COLA would apply to all city employees, included elected, or if the pay raises would exclude city staff.

A separate ordinance passed unanimously by the council last year raised the salaries of three elected officials – the mayor, the city clerk-treasurer and the city attorney. The mayor and clerk-treasurer's salaries were raised by 1.5%, while the city attorney's annual salary was raised by $500, or 4.17%.

According to the ordinance, the salaries for each position were set as follows:
• Mayor – $63,489.71 annually;
• City Clerk-Treasurer – $46,971.68 annually;
• City Attorney – $12,500 annually; and
• District Court Judge – $27,551.90 annually (the city's pays a portion of the judge's total salary).

Freeman said at the time the ordinance was similar to other years, giving city officials the same pay raises on a percentage basis that city employees receive.

"Whatever the cost of living raise was last year, we did the same thing," he said. "If there's no cost of living raise (for city employees), there's no cost of living raise for elected officials."