SEBRING - For the first time in five years, Sebring city employees will at least potentially receive a raise during the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the Sebring City Council decided Monday night.
The council decided that the city's approximately 155 full-time employees - some of the 30 part-time employees may be eligible also - will receive an overall average increase of 2.3 percent, which represents the the average cost of living figures for the last three years.
However, council members also voiced a desire that department heads allocate the money according to merit rather than as a straight across-the-board cost-of-living increase.
City Administrator Scott Noethlich said that it's possible some employees under a merit plan will get more than a 2.3 percent increase, while others in their department may get a smaller raise.
Noethlich said that for police and fire department employees, as well as some employees in the sanitation, utilities and golf course departments, the raises will depend upon union negotiations.
The raises will be budgeted in the General Fund budget that is scheduled to be approved July 24. The council also will set the tax rate at the meeting at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. As of Tuesday afternoon, the cost of a 2.3 percent increase wasn't determined. But a 3 percent increase would cost the city $168,000.
The council decided on the raises after a lengthy debate over the amount, with much of it being between council members John Clark and John Griffin.
Griffin, councilman Bud Whitlock and Mayor George Hensley, who was not at the meeting, favored paying a bonus to city of employees with the amount ranging from $500, $1,000 and $1,500. Griffin said Hensley believes approving bonuses now would give the council a year to come up with a merit plan.
But Clark argued for a 1.7 percent increase based on the cost of living index. He said the council should approve an increase that is justified rather than based on some "BS number."
"Don't play the game," he said, urging the council to approve a consistent approach determining raises.
But Griffin and Whitlock disagreed.
"I don't agree with John (Clark) with 1.7 percent," Griffin said. "That's not enough."
Griffin said he believes costs are rising and he sees that through buying items for his business.
He and Clark argued over whether money should be taken from reserves to fund increases.
With Councilman Andrew Fells favoring the 1.7 percent, Councilman Scott Stanley suggested he would go for a compromise of 2 percent.
However, in the end Clark agreed to an average of the past three years of consumer price index increase figures, but wanted the council to stick to that method during future years.
Clark tried unsuccessfully to get Griffin to commit.
When he asked Griffin to commit, Griffin replied "Maybe. I'm good for this year."
Council members also agreed at some future point to consider inequities in salaries, such as cases where someone with five years of experience is earning the same as someone with a year's experience or someone whose salary is a lot lower than comparable positions elsewhere.