A large audience of city employees applauded the City Council at their meeting Tuesday night upon hearing the news that a 2 percent rate increase would be added to their 401(k) plans.
The council voted unanimously to reinstate a 5 percent rate to employee benefit plans. The rate had been the standard for Durham city 401(k) plans until last year, when the rate dropped to 3 percent to accommodate budget shortfalls.
Prior to the council's decision, several long-term city employees voiced their support for the increase and the more employee-friendly attitude it would imply. They hoped that it would add incentive for people to seek city employment.
"Not only will it attract and retain employees, but it will increase morale," public works employee Bambi Wilson said.
Stuart Carson, a city engineer, said that morale among workers had decreased in recent months due to what he saw as a steady degradation of employee benefit packages.
Other speakers from the audience argued that the increase was needed more than ever in the wake of less-than-prosperous economic times.
"These are lean times," said Robin Bibby, a city employee for the past 18 years.
Once council members were assured by city financial officials that the budget could easily sustain the increase, the motion passed with little delay.
"These are no-brainers," council member Howard Clement said. "I don't see how we can afford not to support them."
IN OTHER BUSINESS: The council voted to accept its staff's recommendation that Central Parking Systems of North Carolina be hired to implement city parking services in the future privatization of Durham parking.
After some discrepancies over its cost relative to that of its competition, McLauren Parking, Central Parking Systems eventually won out as the more desirable and cost-efficient option.
However, some citizens present expressed concern that former city parking employees may be overlooked and mistreated in the shift to privatization.
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"The city is looking at efficiency and cost points of view but there is also a human cost we need to take account of," said Thomas Stith, the one member who voted against the contract with Central Parking.
City officials said that for any former city employee unable to find work at Central Parking, alternative employment would be guaranteed at his or her current rate of pay.
The City Council also narrowly voted to authorize an increase in registration fees should the need arise. The increase would go toward what council members saw as much-needed aid for local transportation.
Three out of the seven council members voted against the authorization.
"Durham has the third highest taxes in North Carolina," said John Best, a member who voted against the measure. "I will be voting against this because the fewer chances we give local and state government officials of reaching in our pockets, the better."
Mayor Bill Bell supported the authorization, saying that the fee was only to be implemented in the event of a budgetary need.
"I don't want to be in the position of asking for funding," Bell said. "It's just what it is--an authorization."