More revenue+less expense=pay increase

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - After two years of belt tightening and increasing revenue streams in several areas, Shepherdsville officials felt the time was right on Monday.

The Shepherdsville City Council voted 4-2 to endorse and pass a package of pay increases, staff additions and debt reduction measures proposed by mayor Scott Ellis.

“I am not going to do anything to get our city back in the position it was in two years ago,” said Ellis. “I want this city to be here when my daughters grow up.”

Ellis said the measures taken were fiscally responsible and it was also the right thing to do for the employees.

The city closed out the June 30, 2012, financial books with a carryover of $452,295 in the general fund and another $1.4 million in the sewer fund.

Combined with $521,612 in emergency reserve funds in the general fund and another $106,193 in the sewer fund, Ellis felt the proposed measures could be accomplished and still have excess funds.

Part of the package included providing pay raises to all city employees. The increases were across the board at a 4 percent rate for public works, administration and sewer employees. For police and fire, Ellis said the increases varied to make those positions comparable once again with other agencies.

“We have been losing too many talented, trained officers and firefighters to other agencies,” said Ellis.

Part of the defections came from frozen wages and others resulted from uncertainty over the city’s future when it was revealed Shepherdsville faced bankruptcy.

Other measures approved by the council included approving another police officer, hiring a third detective and a school resource officer, as well as adding two employees in the public works.

Ellis said over $140,000 would be used to pay off some smaller debts for things such as police cruisers, a truck and a line of credit.

In all, Ellis said of the excess funds, there would still be $521,612 transferred to the emergency account and another $66,957 would be added to the emergency fund in June.

“We appreciate that the employees stuck with us the past two years,” said Ellis. “They need to see that we appreciate them for that loyalty.”

The mayor said the police department had nearly lost half of its officers during the past couple of years.

“The council has made some tough decisions over the past few years and their decisions have paid off,” said Ellis. “Now, we need to begin moving forward with the city and some of its projects.”

Councilmember Dana Bischoff James said the vote needed to move forward immediately on the mayor’s proposal.

“There’s not a reason to delay progress,” said James, who joined Jose Cubero, Gloria Taft and Clinton Kline as the new councilmembers.

Returning councilmember Faith Portman said the employees have suffered, including public works, which has been understaffed for years.

Police chief Doug Puckett said he had 50 percent turnover in his department and the city is losing money each time it loses a trained officer.

In raising revenue through increased taxes, James said the services to the public had decreased.

“We owe this to our citizens,” said James.

Portman added that she wanted more than two police officers on duty per shift.

Cubero said the council has a responsibility to take care of financial obligations and then to the employees.

However, returning councilman Bernie Brown, was concerned about the validity of some of the numbers.

With little time to study the mayor’s proposal, Brown asked to delay any decision.

He pointed to the 66 percent increase in sewer rates and the increased occupational tax as ways the city pledged to raise revenue as it found itself millions of dollars in debt. Ellis found that information out just days after he took office in January 2011.

Brown reminded fellow councilmembers that a $3.5 million debt on the interceptor line would have to soon be refinanced. But Ellis said there will be money in the bank to handle the refinancing and the city could be in a position to pay down much of that debt.

Bob Ryan, the city’s former auditor and now its controller, said money was in the bank at the end of the past fiscal year. While debts have been paid, he said there was also revenue coming in over the past seven months.

He felt confident of the city’s financial figures.

Brown said he would like to see the additional money go to help lower the sewer rates but Ellis said the funds are in two separate accounts.

Jim Smothers asked to speak during the discussion; however, the city allows speakers to only discuss issues during the sign-in speaker portion of the meeting.

James, Portman, Cubero and Taft voted to approve the mayor’s budget package. Brown and Kline were opposed.

Ellis said he would do nothing that will put the city in bad financial shape. At the same time, he is eager to begin working on some of the projects he campaigned on three years ago.

“It’s time for the city to start moving forward again,” said Ellis. “We’ve been dealing with a crisis situation. It’s time to move forward.”

The mayor said he understood that some residents might be against the pay increases and the staffing changes. However, he said, department heads have taken responsibility for their employees and for making sure personnel is used properly.

“I am very conservative,” said Ellis. “This city won’t be overspending.”

Many of the proposals, including pay and staff increases, were discussed last spring during the budget process. But Ellis said he understood the council’s concerns.

Still, he said the revenue projections have come true and the spending cutbacks of the past couple of years paid off.

He is also sure the councilmembers will all keep a very close eye on the financial condition of the city, which is made possible thanks to more information that they are provided.

“I feel very good about the city,” said Ellis. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

The next meeting of the Shepherdsville City Council will be on Monday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. Anyone wishing to speak must sign up prior to the start of the meeting. The public is invited.