Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge
recently said he wants to get city employees a wage increase as soon as
possible, though other city staffers remained cautious about the proposal.
City Manager David Dale
agreed it’s long overdue, but maintained there must be prudence in considering
a pay hike as the city recovers from years of financial instability and
millions in general-fund deficits.
“The time has come, I
believe, to raise employees’ salaries across the board,” Hodge said unprompted
during member reports at the Dec. 18 city council meeting.
“We have to do this in a
diligent and expeditious manner because they deserve it, and some will be working
below minimum wage starting January 2020, and you know that’s illegal. We can’t
have that,” he added.
“I’d like for
administration to focus on that and get started in working it out where we can
raise appropriately,” Hodge continued.
Neither the mayor nor any
other city official addressed the issue further during the meeting.
It is true there are several
city employees who make below a coming state minimum wage, Dale conceded during
an interview with this newspaper Dec. 20, but he added those employees will
automatically see their wages increase Jan. 1 to the mandated $13 an hour.
It wasn’t available by deadline just how many of the city’s 144 employees would be affected by the new rate of pay, but it is thought most of those employees are represented by the Calexico Municipal Employees Association, which has 36 members, union president Lorena Minor confirmed Dec. 21.
California’s minimum wage
rises to $13 an hour starting Jan. 1 for employers with 26 or more workers,
according to the state Department of Industrial Relations. Minimum wage for
employers with fewer than 26 workers increases to $12 an hour.
Dale, who is the city’s
principal negotiator when it comes to employee contracts, said city employees
have not received a cost-of-living adjustment in more than a decade.
In fact, he said, over
the past several years, in addition to hiring freezes, work furloughs and other
cost-cutting measures to reduce deficits, employees have been asked to reduce
their pay and benefits in some cases.
“It’s a shame that we
haven’t been able to do something for our employees for more than a decade,”
Minor, who said she was
surprised to hear that Hodge called for raises, said city workers have not
received a wage increase in 12 years. While she said she was pleased to hear
this being talked about, she was taken aback and expressed the same type of
prudence moving forward as Dale.
“I’m surprised they’re
even talking about raises … We’re (the city) barely managing. I wasn’t
expecting raises yet,” she said.
Minor said it would be
great to see pay increases for all workers, but it’s equally important there
not be a return to work furloughs.
Dale said at the end of
the current fiscal year on June 30, 2020, the city is expected to have a
general fund balance of around $755,000. While some of that could potentially
go toward wage increases, he said the city also needs to work on rebuilding its
depleted general reserves, or “rainy-day” funds.
“It’s a balancing act on
keeping the general fund afloat and paying a livable wage,” Dale said.
The city manager said
city staff needs to do a couple of things in moving Hodge’s request forward,
including analyzing the second-quarter city budget results, which wrap up in
December. In mid- to late January the council will be presented with a
second-quarter budget report to see where the city is on spending and whether
revenue generation is on track.
Dale added administration
also needs to work up some financial scenarios, including how much a two-percent
or five-percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees would cost the
general fund through the remainder of the year or starting with next fiscal
year, July 1, 2020.
“We have to find a way to
give something back to people because of inflation,” Dale said, but added the
city cannot afford to over-extend itself again. “I get Mr. Hodge’s heart, and I
feel the same way.”
Although the council
could request the issue be placed on agenda before then, Dale said he expects it
will be talked about in more detail during the second-quarter budget update by
the finance department scheduled for a council meeting on Jan. 22.