GONZALES — An apparently long-simmering dissatisfaction over pay for clerks in the Gonzales Police Department surfaced at a City Council meeting, broached first by a clerk in the department, then taken up by the police chief himself.

The issue came up at Monday's meeting, when the City Council was set to make the final vote on the proposed 2019-20 budget, which begins in June. 

"I've chosen to speak on behalf of the clerical staff of the Gonzales Police Department," Vanessa Williams said, addressing the council. "I'm at range 5 in pay. Most of the clerks throughout the city are at range 7."

"Is there someone who can explain why we're not being paid what we should be paid?" she asked.

Williams asked, if the proposed new budget was set to be voted on in its present form on Monday, if it could then be amended in the near future to reflect new pay ranges for police department clerks. 

At pay range 5, city clerks begin at an annual pay of $36,233, with a maximum pay of $48,568.

Clerks at range 7 begin at an annual pay of $39,956 and reach a maximum of $53,560.

The budget for the new fiscal year — which the City Council unanimously approved later in the meeting — provides funds to department heads to grant a 2.23% step raise, also called a merit raise, to employees who haven't reached their top pay scale. 

All city employees, a workforce of approximately 130, will also receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise.

"The council has decided there will be a one-step pay increase and a 2 percent of cost-of-living raise," Mayor Barney Arceneaux told Williams.

The mayor seemed caught off guard when Police Chief Sherman Jackson then began to speak on the issue.

"I want it to be known that I've been trying to get this accomplished since 2015," Jackson said. "They're being treated differently than other employees. … There's a problem with the amount of money they (police department clerks) are getting compared to other clerks in the city."

The police chief said he had talked previously to the mayor and Councilman Neal Bourque about the issue.

Bourque said the police department did an excellent job, with a growing budget going along with that.

"Your budget has doubled in the last nine years. Starting salaries are higher than in comparable cities, including Baton Rouge," Bourque said.

Bourque asked why Jackson hadn't brought up the issue at the City Council's April meeting, when the new budget was introduced.

Jackson responded that, in previous years, the City Council held budget hearings before the budget being introduced and he had planned to speak then.

"There are no budget hearings anymore," he said.

Chief Administrative Officer Scot Byrd said a look at area cities shows that "the city of Gonzales pays phenomenally well." 

Records clerks in Denham Springs are paid between $12 and $17 per hour; in Covington, between $14 and $18 per hour, and in Zachary, between $13 and $17 per hour, Byrd said.

In Gonzales, they're paid between $19 and $21 per hour, Byrd said.

"I still feel I'm not being treated equally," said Williams, who was accompanied by two other police department clerks. "None of us do."

The City Council went on to approve the 2019-20 unamended budgets, with a general fund budget of $16.1 million, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year's, and a capital outlay budget of $13 million, compared to $12 million last fiscal year.

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.