The following story originally appeared in the May 26 edition of The Press.

Avon Lake

City Council narrowly approved a six-month-long, 2-percent raise for the city’s non-bargaining unit employees.

In a 4-3 vote, council brought to an end a discussion, at least for now, that has been going on since the beginning of the year. The raise, effectively 1 percent for the entire year, will begin July 1. Mayor K.C. Zuber has promised to bring the raise issue back to council later this year for 2011 salaries.

The Human Resources (HR) Committee met May 18 to discuss possible raises for the 24 non-union city employees. As a compromise, Ward 1 Councilman Tim Rush suggested a 2-percent raise instead of the 2.75-percent raise requested by Mayor K.C. Zuber and HR Director George Wintermyer.

The motion passed 3-1, with Councilman at-Large and HR Committee Chair Dan Bucci opposing it.

“It’s hard in my mind when people are making less and losing their jobs,” he said in an interview. “It’s hard to justify to them we increase the pay for city workers. I’m not saying they’re not worthy of it. I’m not saying they don’t do a good job and don’t deserve it.”

Bucci also cited uncertainty of the federal, state and local economies. He said the mayor spoke of Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant bouncing back, which he hopes to be the case, but he hasn’t seen that yet. Regional Income Tax Authority (RITA) receipts for January through May are down about 9 percent from last year, he said.

The committee has discussed the matter for months with a self-imposed deadline of June. The original proposal by the administration was for 2.75 percent, or a total of about $15,000 annually, for two years retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010. The 2-percent raise for the last half of 2010 would cost $13,802.

During the council meeting, Ward 4 Councilman Dave Kos said he had originally been on the fence about the raises, but a comparison chart passed out by the HR director that showed the salaries of some Avon Lake positions against the pay rates of other nearby cities pushed him to support the raises. The chart made him feel confident the employees are underpaid and should receive the raise, he said.

The comparison chart, which included Avon, Bay Village, Westlake, Oberlin and Lorain, showed the selected Avon Lake employees made less than the average of all the cities’ salaries displayed.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Jennifer Fenderbosch criticized the list, explaining the cities on the chart weren’t a good comparison as they were not census-based. Along with population differences, she said Avon takes in more tax revenue and Bay Village has a $13 million estate gift in its budget.

The mayor has pushed for a 2.75-percent raise, which matches the raises given to the unions in the last round of negotiations in 2009. Zuber said the non-bargaining unit employees have always received the same raises as the unions.

In addition to a tense committee meeting, the mayor had his administrative assistant issue two e-mails. The first, which went to all city employees, detailed the raise issue and pointed out who voted which way. The second e-mail, sent to council members and Clerk of Council Barbara Dopp, was a request by the mayor for the raises to be added to council’s Monday meeting agenda and outlined the reading schedule and the amount of discussion time that would allow.

The e-mails, specifically the first one, caught a few people off-guard – Bucci in particular.

“My impression was that it was a commentary on my vote, that he wanted to make it clear that one person voted against it and this was the person,” he said. “That’s fine if that’s how he wanted to communicate it. I just found it a little odd in the way it was communicated when it affects (24 employees).”

Council President Greg Zilka, who sits on the HR Committee and voted for the raise, said he also was surprised by the e-mails. The tone of the e-mails was “unfortunate,” he said.

“It isn’t a way to win friends and influence people,” he said. “That’s my impression of two e-mails put together.”

Zuber insisted the e-mails were meant for information purposes. He had his assistant e-mail every employee about the raises vote because there wasn’t a separate list for non-bargaining unit employees. Having her pick them out to e-mail them would take “an inordinate amount of her time,” he said.

The mayor said he did not send out an e-mail last year about the HR Committee’s decision against adjusting the non-bargaining unit raises to match the unions’ because most of the affected employees were present at that meeting. He also said he was unsure if he had sent out e-mails to all employees regarding other council committee meetings.

As for the other e-mail, Zuber said in an interview before the vote that council can go the full three readings on the raise legislation, which would include two discussions at Collective Committee meetings, meaning five more opportunities to discuss the raises. He wanted to make sure council started the readings at Monday night’s meeting in case members decided to go the full three readings. Starting the readings after that would cause the pay to become retroactive if passed after July 1, requiring more paperwork. However, he said he saw no intention for any delay.

“I’m just trying to move the process forward to try to get that taken care off,” he said.

Contact Bryan Wroten at bwroten@2presspapers.com

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