On the agenda for approval at Tuesday night's Cherokee City Council meeting, the proposed wage increases for all City Department Heads and non-union employees effective July 1 turned into testy confusion among frustrated Council members, City Administrator Don Eikmeier, and Mayor Mark Murphy.
As lengthy discourse and opinions on the matter heated up with no solution in sight, the issue was ultimately tabled by Murphy to allow the Council to further study the proposed wage hikes and return to vote on them at a future meeting, with all wage adjustments retroactive to July 1.
Salaries for City supervisory personnel and non-union employees are approved by the Council prior to the beginning of a new Fiscal year beginning each July 1.
Union wages for IUOE members and the Cherokee Police Association were set by multi-year labor contracts adopted last year by the Council. The IUOE increase beginning July 1, 2012 is 2.75 percent, while the CPA is 3.75 percent, that one percent difference offset one year ago when the IUOE received one percent more than the Police.
Consistent with prior years to determine supervisory and non-union wage increases, Eikmeier completed a comparability study of the City's management personnel with other area cities of comparable size - Estherville, Sioux Center, Algona, Clarinda, Orange City, Sheldon, Humboldt, Forest City, and Spirit Lake. Eikmeier then established the median wage of the comparable cities combined, and the percentage difference between Cherokee's current wage and the median wage. He then offered his recommendations Tuesday night for the proposed wage adjustments beginning July 1 of this year.
Based on those percentages and to bring Cherokee's pay within median range of the comparable cities, Eikmeier recommended 3.25 percent increases consistent with the average between the Police and IUOE hikes for the Street Superintendent, Library Director, Cemetery Sexton, and Police Chief.
For the Water and Waste Water Plant Superintendent positions, he recommended a 5 percent pay hike.
The Cherokee City Clerk/Treasurer and the City Recreation Director positions were way below the median percentage and Eikmeier deferred to the Council on those wage hikes, while saying somewhere between 7.5 percent and 10 percent would be justified.
Because the wages were more aligned with the comparable cities already, Eikmeier recommended a 1.5 percent increase for the Parks Superintendent position.
With these numbers in hand, the Council then began a series of individual varying opinions and recommendations, questioning the "comparability system's" value, and segregating the various Department Heads by the perceived value of their duties and job importance.
Council member Mick Mallory led the parade by insisting that the City can't accurately compare the job duties of another city with Cherokee's job duties. Citing her duties and expertise, Mallory said that City Clerk/Treasure Deb Taylor should get a 20 percent wage hike and that there be an across the board 5 percent hike for all other Department Heads.
Mallory also said the Library Director's and her assistant's pay should be set by the Library Board and not the City, an issue with which all the other Council members concurred.
Council member Chad Brown made a motion calling for a 5 percent hike across the board for Department Heads, and 7.5 percent for Taylor, and that died for lack of a second.
Council member Wayne Pingel requested the Council table the matter, convene in a work study group to share their concerns and recommendations, and bring the issue up again at a future meeting.
"Are we or are we not going to use the comparability system?" asked Pingel. "Do we want performance based? What about the City's ability to pay and our ongoing budget woes? We need to talk this through."
Mallory then made a motion calling for a 5 percent hike across the board, and a 15 percent hike for Taylor, which was seconded by Brown. That motion failed 3-2, with Pingel, Jim Peck, and Dan Morrow voting it down.
The Council also ruled that the Library Board must set wages for the Director and top assistant out of its approved budget.
Regarding non-union personnel, the Council unanimously approved a wage hike of 2.75 percent for Julie Case and Steve Thill.
In other action, the Council unanimously approved the first presentation of an ordinance increasing landfill fees 134 percent, which raises the City's resident fee from $7 per month to $16.25. The second and third readings were waived.
The Council also authorized a demolition contract for $7,800 plus landfill fees to Schoon Construction of Cherokee to raze a stripped, unsightly house and garage at 116 E. Maple St. owned by Fred and Linda Springer.
The City condemned the house in March after the owners stripped everything of value and left the dilapidated remains while refusing to resolve the problem.
Morrow's motion to tweak the City's purchasing policies and add "buy locally if the bids are within 10 percent," died for lack of a second. The policies will stay as is, with no percentage affixed and each Department Head and Eikmeier responsible for such purchases as long as they fall under the City's guidelines.