Mayor Kip Holden’s tax plan for May ballot fails at Metro Council _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Members of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council listen to a video presentation by Mayor Kip Holden during discussion concerning Mayor Kip Holden's $335 million tax plan during a Metro Council meeting in January 2015.

Thousands of Baton Rouge governmental employees are about to get a pay raise.

The Metro Council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to approve a pay plan that revamps the pay scale structure, providing some modest increases for all city-parish employees, including firefighters and city police.

The raises will go into effect the first pay period in April, and the retirement plans change July 1.

Employees and their unions have lobbied for raises for the past few years, lamenting that they are dramatically underpaid when compared to industry peers.

For months, union leaders have been at odds with city-parish staff as they negotiated the terms of a pay plan. Employees wanted more money, but the Mayor’s Office said significant raises would have to be coupled with cuts to benefits like sick days and retirement changes.

The final plan was a compromise, and won official approval from the unions. However, employees and Metro Council members noted they were not entirely thrilled by the deal.

The new pay plan gives employees across-the-board raises of at least 2 percent or $500, whichever is greater. It also raises minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to either $9.30 an hour or $9.65 an hour depending on the job.

“Hopefully we can get a better percent next time. This is not something we’re going to leave alone,” said public works employee Herman Addison. “We’re willing to take the 2 percent but we’re not satisfied.”

Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said she only reluctantly supported the plan.

“It’s not what I would have wanted, but it’s a start,” she said.

Mayor President Kip Holden applauded the plan and thanked the unions for their cooperation.

“It’s not everything we’d like to give, but under the circumstances and the budget constraints, we’ve worked very hard to turn out a pay plan that makes sure there’s a lot more equity,” he said.

The pay changes will cost $4.9 million this year because they will be in effect for only nine months, but they will cost $6.6 million annually in the future. A little less than half of the money is expected to come from existing funds in the budget, while the other slightly larger piece will come from new appropriations.

Employees will have more opportunities for small pay raises as they work up the pay ladder during their careers. In the past, city employees received longevity pay that rewarded them for working for the city for 10 years or more.

Now, the money that workers would have received from longevity pay is funneled back into higher base salaries. Workers will see yearly 3 percent pay increases built into their salaries until they max out at the highest level of pay for their job.

Though union leaders pushed for pay raises higher than 2 percent, they won the battle over keeping generous sick leave policies. The city-parish had hoped to rein in sick leave that accumulates over time for early retirement, but unions argued that the benefit is too important to the employees.

Current employees will still be able to keep their accumulated sick time and use it to retire early.

New hires, though, will have 96 hours allotted a year for sick leave. They will still be able to accumulate 480 hours, but after reaching the cap they will not be able to carry over any more unused days.

Staff writer Andrea Gallo contributed to this report. Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at .