HOUSTON – Employees for the City of Houston will be looking at a pay raise on their next pay period thanks to a raise that was enacted by the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
While it took a lengthy discussion to reach an agreement, the board was able to agree on raises for the employees.
The raises were as follows:
Fire Department: Placed on the scale presented by Chief Jonathan Blankenship in 2020, which gave raises according to rank.
Police Department: $0.50 across the board for all full-time and part-time employees, except Chief Billy Voyles, to change the chief's salary requires an ordinance change.
City Hall: $0.50 raise across the board.
Library: $0.50 across the board.
Public Works: $0.75 across the board.
Water (two employees): $1.50 raise for both.
The raises were all approved retroactive to Oct. 1, 2020.
Coming to this conclusion was not an easy road, however.
The board came into the meeting with two proposed options for the raises.
One option had a differing scale of raises by department.
The other, had a $0.25 raise across the board for all employees and a one-time payment of $2,260 for full-time employees and $1,135 for part-time employees, under the title of Hazard Pay.
The money for the one-time payment would come from a reimbursement that the city received for salaries paid during the pandemic.
However, as was stressed by Mayor Stacey Parker, it is illegal for municipalities in Mississippi to give bonuses to employees.
Though being called Hazard Pay, this was not technically a bonus, it made the board members a bit hesitant to go this route due to the potentially questionable legality of it if it were to eventually be judged a bonus. They were uncomfortable with doing this until the City Attorney had weighed in and perhaps a ruling be passed down from the state level.
In the final decision, the money that was reimbursed will be placed into the general fund to sustain the raises.
However, there were more factors at play as well.
Ward 1 Alderlady Kellie Atkinson brought up the point that manual labor, such as the public works department and Police and Fire were in relatively high demand, and that they had trouble keeping employees because the salaries often times weren't comparable to other jobs in the field.
She suggested that perhaps they consider them for raises before clerical jobs, which she said the city does pay comparable salaries.
“I think we need to utilize that money in a pay raise situation possibly, but I don't necessarily know if we need to do the one-time payment,” she said. “I think that we need to maybe go back and look at that part and get some of these street workers, sewage workers and police officers and fire department guys, these manual laborers, get their rates up where they are comparable so that we're not losing them to the county or to other industries in our area. I would like to see us really get those manual labor positions at a level at which we can contend and keep them because that is where the shortfall is right now.”
However, they decided to go with the final raise package because it encompassed all of the departments in some capacity, while also keeping a maintainable salary system that the city can afford and sustain.