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Members enjoy dinner during the EBR Council on Aging annual meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2017.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging is mulling whether to give pay raises to its employees before the agency adds 40 positions over the next four years as it expands services and grows into a budget more than twice the size of the one it currently operates on.

The Council on Aging board on Friday reviewed its employees' salaries and areas in which the COA needs to grow to keep good on director Tasha Clark-Amar's campaign promise last year to eliminate waiting lists for Meals on Wheels and other services for seniors. The Council on Aging won a contentious dedicated property tax election last year that will increase its budget from $3.2 million to $7.8 million annually.

Auditors said a few months ago that the quasi-governmental nonprofit agency might have run afoul of state and federal laws in its campaign for the tax, but the East Baton Rouge Metro Council agreed in June to let the COA start collecting the tax.

James Gilmore, a former assistant chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, made a lengthy presentation Friday to the COA's board that broke down employee salaries and positions  the agency now hopes to add. Gilmore said he is working without pay as a consultant for the Council on Aging.

Low-level Council on Aging employees, such as care managers who visit seniors inside of their homes and help to assess their needs, are only paid between $23,000 and $27,800 annually. Drivers who deliver Meals on Wheels fare are paid even less.

"I am stunned that this is the price," said board member William Daniel. "This is one of your core things that you're supposed to do."

Most others agreed, and asked Clark-Amar and Gilmore to return for their board meeting in December with more information about how much a 5 percent raise would cost and comparable salary ranges they might consider for Council on Aging employees.

Clar-Amar said the low-paid employees remain at the agency despite their salaries because they like the work they do. She said she worried about the perception of pushing for pay raises at a time when the agency is under heavy scrutiny, and said she wanted to throw the bulk of the 2018 tax money into expanding services.

"I understand the perception," said board member Derek Cole. "But if you have the people, you need to reward them."

While Cole favored an across-the-board pay raise, board member Steven Schilling said certain groups of employees might be in more dire need of a raise than others. Board member and State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle was particularly concerned about rewarding longtime employees before bringing in new hires at higher pay levels.

"Because they've stayed faithful to the agency, they deserve an increase in pay," she said.

Gilmore also walked through the salaries of the highest-paid Council on Aging executives, including Clark-Amar and her leadership staff.

Clark-Amar's annual salary is $101,238, but the presentation showed the national midrange salary for someone in her position is $180,198. Gilmore said the national numbers may have been skewed, as they appeared to be from the private sector and were higher than he expected.

Clark-Amar also hopes to hire a chief administrative officer to help run the Council on Aging, and said her chief operations officer is overextended. The CAO would be another  executive level position at a high pay level.

Board members also pondered whether it was worth outsourcing some of the work the Council on Aging does. Clark-Amar proposed beefing up the two-person accounting staff with three additional employees.

But Daniel said the public sector often cannot compete with the private sector in attracting experienced employees such as the governmental accountant the Council on Aging hopes to add. He said the Council on Aging should consider contracting a governmental accountant and purchasing agent rather than hiring people to fill the positions.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​