MARIETTA — City staff revealed at last Tuesday’s Marietta City Council meeting that they plan to fund proposed employee raises by increasing permit and license fees.
The council’s Finance and Investments Committee considered the request from City Manager Bill Bruton and Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin for further raises, on top of salary increases most city employees received in the spring.
In April, the council approved blanket 3% raises for nearly all city employees following a pay and classification study performed by an outside consultant. Depending on the study’s recommendations for each classification, many workers received substantially larger raises — starting pay for public safety employees increased by some 9%, while pay for entry-level sanitation and grounds workers went up by 15%, according to Bruton. The raises adopted in April cost roughly $2.1 million annually.
Bruton and Tumlin told the council that rising salaries for employees of other local governments in the area necessitated the proposal. Bruton said the city had 107 job openings as of Tuesday, a vacancy rate of 14%.
“I think we’re behind the 8-ball,” Tumlin said of the city’s salaries, adding, “We’ve been shorthanded for a long time.”
The council did not determine specific increases at its Tuesday meeting, though Bruton said the budget changes would provide salary increases for all city employees.
“It would also involve moving some of our (salary) minimums, definitely fire and police minimums, would have to go up,” Bruton said.
Salaries for public safety employees became a hot-button issue in the city when a group of Marietta firefighters began protesting what they considered unfair pay earlier this year. Bruton said the Marietta Fire Department is now fully staffed.
Bruton has proposed funding the raises by increasing various license and permit fees the city charges. The fees include liquor licenses for retailers and restaurants, business licenses and building permits.
Even with the hikes in various fees, Bruton said the cost of doing business in Marietta would still be lower than in unincorporated Cobb County. The revenue from the fee increases would net the city just shy of $1 million, enough to fund raises.
“We’re not using fees as a tax,” Tumlin said. “They’re being forced up.”
Councilman Grif Chalfant took issue with a proposed hike in the price of a single resident pass for Custer Park Sports and Fitness Center from $15 to $20 a month. Chalfant said it seemed this would affect city employees who use the center. He would prefer that all fees, for residents and non-residents alike, remain the same for the center.
The committee voted 3-0 to advance the discussion to the council’s Dec. 12 work session. Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson’s motion to move the proposal forward included the stipulation that the Custer Park fees remain the same.
Tumlin said before the vote that making adjustments in the middle of the fiscal year is a “big deal.” For that reason, he said, it made sense to take more time to finalize the details of the raises.
On top of that, Tumlin and Bruton proposed a potential special called meeting on Dec. 22 to amend the budget and implement the raises. The council could vote on the raises at its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14, though Tumlin said giving more time for public input between then and Dec. 22 could be a prudent move.
However, he also floated that the special called meeting might not be necessary if the proposed raises are well-received before then.
“Maybe everybody will be so happy we won’t need to come in on the 22nd,” Tumlin said.