Members of the Fennimore Common Council engaged in a spirited discussion regarding longevity pay for city employees during a meeting Monday evening, Dec. 9.
The discussion stemmed from a review of minutes taken during a Personnel Committee meeting held Tuesday, Nov. 26.
Committee member Greg Fry made a motion during the Nov. 26 meeting recommending non-union employees, with the exception of the wastewater treatment staff, receive a one percent wage increase in 2014. Fry’s motion also called for longevity pay to be eliminated beginning in 2014.
Committee member Sara Brodt seconded Fry’s motion and voted in favor of the motion, as did Fry. However, fellow committee members Linda Stephenson and Joe McBee voted against the motion, creating a deadlock.
The meeting minutes presented Monday evening indicated Mayor Charles Stenner broke the tie by voting against Fry’s motion. As a result, the motion failed.
McBee then made a motion, which was seconded by Stephenson, to recommend to the Common Council that non-union employees receive a one percent wage increase for 2014 and longevity pay be frozen at 2013 levels beginning in 2014.
Stephenson and McBee voted in favor of the motion, while Fry and Brodt did not. The meeting minutes indicate Stenner again broke a tie by voting yes. As a result, the motion passed.
Or did it?
“I think the minutes reflect what happened, what I am saying is that was incorrect,” City Attorney Eileen Brownlee told the Council Monday night.
Brownlee explained that Stenner only holds the authority to break a tie at the Council level, not at the Committee level.
With the matter deadlocked within the Personnel Committee, Stenner informed the Council it was up to them to make the decision regarding any wage increase and the fate of longevity pay.
Stenner began the nearly 25-minute discussion with a case for longevity pay.
“The last couple of years the employees have been taking a hit and have been taking less home in their paychecks,” he said. “Some of it has been going to their insurance and their retirement, that’s true.
“But still, it is taking more out their paycheck each time and this would be another thing taken out and I don’t think that is necessary at this time.”
Fry wondered aloud what the reasoning for longevity pay was.
“They have been reaping these funds for years, for what reason I’m not sure,” he said. “It is just free money as far as I’m concerned.
“There is nothing that has to be done to earn this money other than maintain employment. You don’t have to do anything special to get this money, you just have to stay employed. I feel it is wrong.”
Longevity pay, which was instituted in the 1970s, is additional annual compensation depending on an employee’s years of service.
Fry argued against the possibility of freezing longevity pay at 2013 levels.
“I think we owe it to the future to nix it now, rather than half nix it and leave it linger for an extended period of time,” he said. “It is a seed that is going to sit there and fester and eventually it is going to rear its ugly head.”
City Clerk/Treasurer Margaret Sprague told the Council city employees feel slighted when the elimination of longevity pay is discussed.
“You took away the maximum of 80 hours of sick pay, that was $2,000 a year,” she said. “Now you want to take another $1,300 a year.
“What is the incentive to stay?”
“If you’ll notice, that door will swing both ways,” alderperson David Streif replied. “Go out in the real world and get a job.
“No one is saying you have to stay here. You are not required by law to keep this job.”
Alderperson Linda Stephenson argued paying longevity pay is better than the alternative.
“Do you want a city clerk who is here one or two years and then goes out the door,” she asked. “You don’t want someone who knows the history? I am not saying you have to be here forever and ever.
“The door swings both ways. OK. So they are coming and they are going. You are training them and educating them and they are gone.”
Streif asked if city employees would look for work elsewhere if longevity pay was eliminated.
“Some of them will,” Sprague answered.
“And based on the fact we had 96 employees apply for the police officers’ job that would suggest there is a labor pool out there available to draw from,” Brodt replied.
Alderperson Philip Nelson proposed eliminating longevity pay and diverting that money to base wage increases for employees.
Sprague estimated close to $14,000 in longevity pay was paid out last month.
“We have good employees, let’s not degenerate them,” alderperson Gerald Bollant said.
Fry made a motion to offer all non-union employees, with the exception of the wastewater treatment plant staff, a 44 cents per hour wage increase. His motion also eliminated longevity pay.
Nelson seconded the motion. He and Fry voted in favor of it, as did Brodt, Streif and alderperson Jessie Strack. Stephenson, Bollant and McBee voted against the motion.
When Sprague read it aloud the motion passed, 5-3, Stenner immediately indicated he would veto the action.
If the situation seems similar, that is because it is. The Council voted on Oct. 15 last year, by a 5-3 margin, to eliminate longevity pay following a one-time payment. Stenner vetoed the action and the Council failed to override his veto a week later.
Stenner will file his veto in the coming days, after which the Council will again have the opportunity to override it. A two-thirds majority of the Council, or six members, will need to vote to override the veto.