City Council approves employee pay raises, condemns Kennedy Street home over danger to communityby J.D. Bailey on 04/27/21
As part of an amended 2021 budget passed Monday by the Magnolia City Council, numerous municipal employees, including most local police officers, firefighters, street department, and utility workers, as well as and city executives such as the mayor, all received bumps in their annual pay.
The extra compensation comes a year after city raises were frozen in 2020 during the coronavirus outbreak. But, despite economic slowdowns in some private sectors, the city had a “good” 2020, according to Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann. He noted last month in his State of the City address that most of the extra revenues (up to approximately 7% over 2020) came by way of added online sales tax collections.
On Monday, the city leader, citing an increase in the cost of goods, said it was time for municipal workers to be issued pay increases.
“During COVID, we were scared to give raises – not knowing what the money was going to do,” he said. “But, without our people, we’d be nothing, and they’ve had to endure high prices just like all of the rest of us have.”
Vann noted that he and City Treasurer Kim Newell reviewed municipal finances over the past month and “carefully” issued raises to most city workers. The wage increases should last through 2022, according to the mayor, with the possibility of employee pay boosts back on the table again in 2023.
“The money is good,” said Vann. “We’re not going to be hurt if we give raises. I know our people need it.”
The licensed head of water operations is the highest paid city employee at $80,000 annually. Vann defended the large pay salary on Monday by saying: “Without him, we’d be lost. And he doesn't make anything comparable to some of the other (water managers).”
Salary increases were also seen in the Magnolia Fire Department and Magnolia Police Department budgets. In total, MFD salaries (12 current firefighters) jumped $12,000 from the previous budget, while MPD salaries (26 employees) rose nearly $17,000.
“I know our people need it,” Vann said.
City executives, including the mayor, received pay increases as well. Vann’s salary jumped $2,000, from $68,000 in 2020 to $70,000 in 2021. The remaining top city executives, including the city treasurer, assistant treasurer, city building inspector, city attorney, and assistant city attorneys, all saw a pay increase that combined for around $6,000.
The eight city council members did not receive a raise. Their salaries of $250 per month remained the same.
Other city departments also received bumps in pay from the previous budget. They are as follows:
Magnolia Park Department labor and salaries (3 employees) - $8,100 total increase
Magnolia Street Department labor and salaries (8 current employees and 3 vacant slots) - $13,320 total increase
Magnolia Economic Development salaries (2 employees) - $3,560 total increase
Animal Control salaries (1 employee) - $1,000 total increase
Magnolia Utilities joint wages (8 employees + OT) - $9,520 total increase
Magnolia Water Treatment (3 employees + OT) - $29,000 total increase
Magnolia Utility Maintenance (7 employees + OT) - $15,920 total increase
Magnolia Wastewater (9 employees + OT) - $12,142 total increase
Alderman James Jefferson on Monday asked Vann how the raises were calculated and wished to know if anyone received preferential treatment for pay increases, due to “relationships.”
“I looked at some of the people that got substantial raises, and I didn’t really see much effort,” said Jefferson. “But, I guess you guys know how to make that back. I just wanted to know how you (decide raises).”
The mayor answered by saying that he watched the workers carefully and felt no employee would turn down their raises issued in the new budget. He also stated that longer-tenured and higher-skilled workers were important to take care of.
“We need people that can pass water tests and wastewater tests,” he said. "We need patrol officers and street department workers and firefighters. We need them."
The mayor added that the “big brass" of the city is going to be fine in times of rising costs, but that employees he wished to address were those making $10-$11 per hour.
“We looked at trying to give as many people as we could a $1 (per hour raise),” Vann noted.
Besides salary increases, the 2021 amended budget also saw a $100,000 increase in expected city sales tax revenues (from $2 million to $2.1 million), a $50,000 increase in Economic Development funds (from $660,000 to $710,000), and a $7,000 increase in projected beverage tax monies (from $15,000 to $22,000), which helped contribute to an overall general fund increase of $157,000.
“We’ve had an extraordinarily good year,” the mayor said.
In other City Council news:
- A home at 628 Kennedy Street was condemned due to public nuisance. The passage of the condemnation ordinance was unanimous among the council members. The address, according to the mayor, has caused problems in the neighborhood with large, hazardous gatherings and does not currently contain utility hookups or meters because of theft and lack of payment.
The owner of the property, Victoria Lindsey, issued a plea Monday to avoid the home’s condemnation. The young woman said that she inherited the address from her mother and told the council that she had been incarcerated last year and was unable to bring the home up to proper regulations.
Alderman Tia Wesson, who resides in the Kennedy Street neighborhood, noted that the home was on the condemnation list because the community felt it was a danger to their well-being and that a murder nearly took place there recently. City Inspector David Nelson also stated that buckets of human excrement had been found on the property and that the property lacked basic utilities such as water, natural gas, and electricity hookups. The city official also said that the windows were broken out and dangerous.
After hearing from all parties, the council unanimously voted to pass the condemnation ordinance. Lindsey does, however, still have 30 days or more to salvage the property before further steps are taken.
- The city’s 2019 Legislative Audit results were unanimously approved by the council. City Treasurer Kim Newell said that the audit came back “good,” and that no issues of non-compliance arose.
There were, however, two items that caused the city to receive a letter from the legislative audit’s management. According to the audit results, the city made an advance payment of $25,000 to City Council member Steve Crowell for a Christmas light project without a contract of service. The issue stems from a Magnolia Advertising and Promotion funding motion passed in early 2019. The project later used the services of Magnolia High School's shop class to build lighted Panther Paws and Mulerider logos to hang on city utility poles during the Christmas season, but the project was never completed. The Panther paws were built but the Mulerider logo lights were not.
According to Vann, who is not part of the A&P Commission but was familiar with the 2019 Christmas lighting project, he believed no contract of service was ever signed between the two parties. He also stated that the student who designed much of the project has since graduated from the school and the former shop teacher is no longer at the institution, so details on the project may now be lost.
The audit states that only $11,660 worth of materials for the project can be documented. Vann said on Monday that he did now know where the remaining $13,330 in materials were located. He has also not been asked to appear before the legislative audit committee in Little Rock over the issue. He stated Monday that the local prosecuting attorney will take over any investigation into the issue, should it occur, but that he has not heard anything from that office.
“If we were going to hear from him, we would have already heard from him,” said Vann. “If I were going to be called before the legislative audit, I would have already gone to Little Rock. So, what you see is what we’ve got. I’d say it’s a clean audit.”
The audit also stated that a salary of $3,000 for Vann and $2,500 for Newell in 2019 were paid more than their appropriated amounts. Newell said Monday that those were raise amounts approved the next year in the city budget.
“We did not get raises that year,” she said.
- A resolution was unanimously approved to retroactively amend the city’s 2020 budget. The changes were made to better balance out and reflect actual city revenues and expenses from last year instead of their initially projected figures tabulated in 2019. According to Newell, this change to the budget is a routine and annual occurrence.
“It’s just our normal changes that we have to go back and make for the auditor,” she said. “We establish a budget at the end of the year, and then, when we finish the year, if we’ve gone over or under, we adjust that to meet the budget so we’re not way over or way under.”