No raises for non-union city workers in Sandusky?

SANDUSKY Tough times call for tough decisions. Facing a $1.5 million deficit in
May 24, 2010



Tough times call for tough decisions.

Facing a $1.5 million deficit in 2009, and with the recession and layoffs deepening in recent months, city commissioners are considering freezing the salaries of 40 non-union city workers.

While all the commissioners sympathized with city employees, they said the economy has left them no alternative.

"I would rather not lay anyone off," commissioner Dan Kaman said. "And I think raises will ultimately translate into layoffs."

Ex officio mayor Craig Stahl said the commission's decision is no reflection on the quality of the city's employees.

"We have many hard workers at the city. Very hard workers," he said. "We have an excellent staff, but we have to be realistic. ... We're bleeding. We're going to lose $1.5 million this year. We can't let that continue."

But the idea of potentially freezing salaries has been met with widespread dismay from non-union city workers. They say it's unfair that city union workers are slated to get a 3 percent raise this year.

Fire Chief Mike Meinzer said some non-union city workers deserve the raises as much as anyone.

"I don't care about my salary. I'm on the higher end of the pay scale," he said. "But because we're shorthanded, some administrative workers are doing the work of two people, even though they're only getting paid for one. ... You're telling me they shouldn't get a raise just because they're not in the union? I don't think that's fair."

Most non-union city workers declined to comment, saying they didn't want to incur punishment or jeopardize their chances of a raise.

But several expressed deep frustration with the situation.

"I think it's bull," said one employee. "I work my (butt) off. I earned a raise. But we don't have any power. I can't afford to complain, because I can't afford to lose my job."

According to Ed Widman, the city's finance director, non-union city employees have received the same percentage raises as their union counterparts for the past five years.

But the city has guaranteed that won't happen this year. That doesn't mean there won't be any raises, however.

According to Widman, city manager Matt Kline shares Meinzer's views.

After meeting last week with a five-person committee asked to review the issue, Widman said Kline will suggest at the city commission meeting tonight that certain employees should receive a small raise.

He will say department heads like Meinzer shouldn't, Widman predicted, because they are on the higher end of the pay scale, but 24 other non-union city workers -- who have earned it through their work performance -- should be considered for a 1 percent raise, which would cost the city $30,000.

Commissioners Kaman, Stahl and Dave Waddington, however, said no one should receive raises because of the financial crisis. Other city commissioners didn't return calls or said they would consider a 1 percent raise.

"We don't want to lose anyone," Waddington said. "We have to draw a line somewhere."

The contract for union workers expires at the end of 2009 and negotiations for the new contract will begin this summer.

Acting police chief Charlie Sams, who most likely won't receive a raise, said he understood both sides of the issue.

"I realize I'm lucky. I'm very grateful I have a job," he said. "Do I think (city workers) deserve a raise? Absolutely. Would I like a raise? Yes. But I see what's going on in this country."