By Carson Gerber
For the Pharos-Tribune
Miami County Council last week voted down an amendment to repeal a 3 percent pay increase next year for county employees and elected officials, but only after 45 minutes of heated debate on whether the county could afford the raises.
Council approved the pay increase in November, which overruled a previous motion passed in October saying the raises would only take affect if the state approved the county’s 2013 budget.
The raises will cost an additional $95,000 from the county’s general fund.
Council President Ralph Duckwall introduced the amendment to repeal the pay increase, saying it was “foolish” to hand out more money until council knew it would have enough revenue next year to pay for it.
“There are a lot of little expenses out there that could bite us next year,” he said. “If we make a commitment now without having a thorough analysis of our finances, I think we may regret it ... I realize $95,000 in the large scheme of things may not make us or break us, but it can make things more difficult.”
However, Jan Kendall, councilman at-large, said council had considered giving pay raises for years, and it was time to approve them.
“For the last several years, I’ve heard the council and commissioners talk about giving a raise to employees,” he said. “And what always happens? The employees get left holding an empty bag, and I’m tired of seeing it. Let’s get these people a raise and the money they deserve.”
Councilman At-large John Donaldson responded that the pay increase would help county employees, but taxpayers may not approve of the extra expenditure.
“The taxpayers don’t want to see their taxes go up,” he said. “We’re responsible to the taxpayers.”
Commissioner Josh Francis said the county saved significant amounts of money this year in health insurance payouts and courthouse maintenance expenses. He said he supported the 3 percent raise.
“These employees are working harder and more efficiently than ever before,” he said. “I think if we don’t reward them, that’s going to backfire on us. I think it will hurt us in the long run, both from an efficiency and employee morale standpoint. I think the $95,000 would be well spent.”
But Duckwall said although it may appear the county will have the funds to pay for the increase, it was still too early to make a decision.
“Just because we see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean it’s time to press down on the accelerator,” he said. “I’m cautioning you that this could be a very unwise decision to approve these pay raises without analyzing our budget.”
Duckwall and Donaldson voted against the increase. Council members Jan Kendall, Shirley Mull, Steve McAuliffe and Dick Wiles voted for the pay raise. Alan Hunt abstained from voting.
Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.