The Metro Council approved the mayor’s 2015 budget on Tuesday with no changes for the third year in a row, after a failed attempt to add pay raises for the Department of Public Works.
The $830 million plan for the year’s spending includes money for more police vehicles and more police academies to train recruits. Among those snubbed from receiving additional resources were city workers who hoped for more substantial pay raises and the Constable’s Office, which asked for additional vehicles.
During the meeting, a brief window opened when it appeared as though the council would find a way to move money for pay raises. But members of Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration quickly convinced the council members that they should wait until early 2015 rather than try to shove changes into the budget.
Service Employees International Union President LaTanja Silvester asked Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle before the meeting for a symbolic gesture to show support for DPW pay raises. Marcelle said she knew she could not line up enough votes on the council, but still made an attempt.
Marcelle tried to move $450,000 from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to the Department of Public Works for pay raises. But Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said a 2 percent pay raise for DPW would cost more than $1 million.
Mayor-President Kip Holden chided the council for considering moving money from economic development. He pointed to all the jobs that have come to Baton Rouge, including IBM entering the capital city.
“All of us are in accord that the pay needs to be increased and we’re trying to do a lot better in terms of taking the lowest-paid employees and bringing them up,” Holden said. He said nothing stands in the way of underpaid city workers seeking jobs at the new businesses entering Baton Rouge.
The city’s Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel told Marcelle at the meeting that changing the pay plan is the key to giving raises. Hanlon said they hope to implement the pay plan change on April 1, once sales tax revenues from holiday shopping are available.
Union representatives have given Daniel’s pay plan a frosty reception. DPW, police and fire union leaders have been locked up in negotiations with Daniel and other city administration members for months now.
“The mayor has asked Marsha (Hanlon) and I to find raises for our employees,” Daniel said. “We’ve been working very, very hard to do that. … We are equally committed to doing this.”
Marcelle withdrew her motion, and said afterward that she believed the chamber could stand on its own two feet for a temporary period, unlike some of the underpaid workers.
Silvester slammed Holden after the meeting, saying: “It’s obvious that the mayor has turned his back on working people.”
Most DPW workers, firefighters and police officers have gone more than five years without across-the-board raises and have spent months begging city officials for pay boosts. Workers still receive 3 percent cost of living increases each year until they hit the city-parish’s pay scale ceiling. After 10 years, they also are eligible for “longevity pay,” which is a 5 percent increase in the 10th year and a 1 percent increase every year that follows until longevity also hits a ceiling at 20 percent.
Despite the annual raises, employees have complained that they are still paid less than their regional peers. The Metro Council commissioned a pay study in the past that also found Baton Rouge’s DPW employees do not earn as much as their counterparts in comparable cities.
The past few budget cycles have all taken similar turns — city workers requested higher salaries, council members agreed they deserved them but then pay raises were excluded from the budget.
Momentum spreading through the Metro Council to change that pattern was cut short this week. Councilman John Delgado abandoned previous plans to add 2 percent pay raises into the budget, saying he could not find enough fat to trim.
Delgado has now also said he supports a budget supplement that would include pay raises.
The Metro Council will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday for its final meeting of the year.