Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vestavia Hills City Council approves budget with 5 percent merit raises

Published: Monday, November 08, 2010, 7:20 PM ??? Updated: Monday, November 08, 2010, 7:22 PM

The Vestavia Hills City Council tonight approved a $29.6 million 2010-11 operating budget which includes a 5 percent merit raise for qualified city employees.

The increase will cost the city about $245,000 annually.

The merit raise was excluded from previous versions of the budget because council members were concerned the city couldn't afford raises in an economic recession that has hurt city revenues.

At a council meeting last month, city firefighters urged the council to find ways to fund merit raises.

About 150 city employees qualify for merit raises, which are given to employees certified by Jefferson County Personnel Board who have not reached the top of their pay grade.

Council members told firefighters in October if the 2010-11 budget included merit raises, the city would have to cut jobs.

Mayor Alberto "Butch" Zaragoza, the city's former fire chief, consulted with department heads about unfilled positions.

Department heads of police, fire and parks and recreation found positions which were unfilled and, in the case of parks and recreation, found positions which were budgeted for more than was actually spent.

"We had been budgeting lifeguards for 40 hours," Zaragoza said. "We did a three-year analysis and found out they were working about 16 hours so we were able to" find some savings there.

Zaragoza sought several times throughout the budget process to fund the merit raises.

"We need to recognize our employees," the mayor said. "They're the backbone of our city. They make everything run."

Council President Mary Lee Rice said she found the mayor's recommendation a "viable proposal."

Ryan Farrell, a firefighter, thanked the council and mayor for funding merit raises.

"This is going to make a difference in Vestavia in the future," he said. "We have good folks here, and I want to keep them here just like you do."

The city budget anticipates about $29.4 million in revenues, which won't be enough to cover projected expenses. The city will transfer about $173,000 from operating reserves to balance the budget.

The budget runs from Sept. 30 through Oct. 1.

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