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City Council passes employee wage hikes

The Duham city council voted in favor of a proposal Tuesday night that increases the salaries of police officers, firemen and other city workers--a suggestion motivated by a $1.6 billion surplus from the 2002-03 fiscal year.

  The salaries of sworn city employees--police officers and firemen--were increased by 3 percent, while salaries of all other city workers were raised 1 percent.

  During the council meeting, representatives from these two groups, in addition to others, spoke in support of the raises, though differing over some specifics.

  "I'm very disappointed in my pay since I've been here," said Melvin Dickens, a senior storekeeper with Fleet Maintenance, a division of the city that maintains all city vehicles. "[We] keep the city of Durham rolling."

  Public Works employee Craig Roxbury asked council members to consider a greater raise for non-sworn city employees. Although he admitted that sworn officers are a crucial part of the community, he said this is already reflected in the difference of pay scales between sworn and non-sworn city employees.

  Bill Towner, a representative for the fire department, defended the proposal on the table, in which sworn city employees received a greater pay increase. The fact that firemen trained in Durham--at the cost of the taxpayer--are lured to other communities by greater salaries, he said, is motivation for considering the salary increases of the two types of city employees separately.

  The surplus from FY 2002-03, which provided for the wage improvements, was the result of one-time relief funds granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after last winter's ice storm, Mayor Bill Bell said.

  "There's no question [that] this community has had some difficult economic times," Bell said. "Fortunately, FEMA came through." Bell further cautioned that since the surplus resulted from a one-time occurrence, future salary increases may prove to be difficult in light of the already-strained city budget.

  "I had no problem with redistributing the surplus for this year," Bell said. "[But] my plan would have been to share this as a bonus, not as a salary increase."

  Bell ultimately voted in favor of the increases, due to the recommendation of the personnel committee that debated the issue and consisted of council members Howard Clement, Diane Catotti, John Best Jr. and Cora Cole-McFadden.

  Bell said he ultimately hopes for additional salary reforms, such as a pay-for-performance plan, in which employees' salaries would be determined by the quality of their work.

  "If it's implemented carefully, it can work," Bell said, though not passing over the possible difficulties of instituting such an assessment process. The council will begin examining this suggestion during a retreat this February.

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