As of March 1, about 145 Calexico city employees started earning a two-percent cost-of-living-adjustment pay increase, with another two-percent due at the July 1 the start of the 2020-21 fiscal year, city officials announced.
It is the first
cost-of-living-adjustment for city employees in more than a decade.
“I think it’s great that
we can give these raises. It’s an incentive and it motivates them to work
harder,” Calexico City Council Member Morris Reisen said March 3. “I clearly
believe in spreading the wealth. I’ve been a businessman for 50 years, and I’ve
found that employees savor that.”
The council unanimously
voted to provide the raises in closed session during its Feb. 19 meeting. City
Manager David Dale made the initial announcement to this newspaper late on Feb.
27 after coming to agreement on the raises in principle with all city-employee
Mayor Bill Hodge and
council members Rosie Fernandez and Lewis Pacheco also said they were pleased
to be able to provide the employees with raises that all described as being long
overdue. Council member David Romero could not be reached for comment.
Contacted March 2, Reisen,
Pacheco and Fernandez each said they were unaware Dale had told this newspaper
about the raises on Feb. 27 for a story posted on calexicochronicle.com later
“I’m very pleased because
the city employees have made tremendous sacrifices with salary cuts and going
with no pay (at times) to go the extra mile to get us economically sound
again,” Hodge said Feb. 27.
Hodge described the
raises as a gesture of “good will” meant to “keep the morale up.”
While the city still must
focus on rebuilding its reserves, or rainy-day funds, the mayor added “we felt,
among the city council, that the employees deserved at least a COLA (cost of
living adjustment) raise.”
Dale said Feb. 27
employees had made significant sacrifices over the years to help the city avoid
falling into bankruptcy. Following a period in 2016, when the city had a $4.5
million general-fund deficit and had to borrow from its own water enterprise
fund, Dale said the city and its workers’ unions negotiated salary and benefit
reductions to stay solvent.
At the end of the current
fiscal year, June 30, city officials expect to see the first general fund
surplus—more than $900,000—since 2014, officials previously reported.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to give
these resources back to our city employees. I wish we could do more,” Dale said.
City workers had not had
a cost-of-living adjustment in 13 years, he added.
In addition to taking
salary cuts, the workforce, through layoffs and attrition, has dwindled to
around 145, about half of what the city employed just a decade ago.
The first part of the
raises will cost the city around $62,800 through June 30, Dale added. The
additional two percent will cost $188,500 for fiscal 2020-21.
Calexico officials are currently
building the city’s 2020-21 budget, and Dale said March 3 he hopes to be able
to add more staff positions. However, that will depend on a more detailed
picture of projected revenues and expenditures, he added.
Reaction from some of the
city’s bargaining units was predictable.
“We’re very happy. What
can I say? It’s been a long time coming,” said Lorena Minor, president of the
Calexico Municipal Employees Association, which represents 45 city workers.
“As far as I can remember,
it’s been 13 years since a cost-of-living-adjustment. I want to thank the city
council,” Minor said after work Feb. 27. “Things are looking better for the
employees of the city of Calexico.”
“I think it’s great that
the city appears to be moving in a positive direction. We hope to see more of
the same as part of our ongoing negotiations,” said Capt. Eduardo Ainza, a
director for the Calexico Firefighters’ Association.
Ainza explained March 3
that the COLAs are not part of the ongoing negotiations separate unions are
having with the city; rather, these were across-the-board increases the city
felt compelled to provide.
In the case of the
firefighters, it’s been a long road in trying to “chip away” at the negotiated
salary and benefit reductions of several years ago, he added, and that four
percent is just a “small fraction of what was conceded.
“But positive movement is
a good sign,” Ainza said.
Some members of the community
were pleased to learn of the raises, realizing city employees were often the
face of Calexico’s public financial struggles.
“They’re due. They really
bit the big one … we had to negotiate 20 percent to 30 percent payroll
reductions in some cases,” said Imperial County District 1 Supervisor Jesus
Escobar on March 2.
Escobar was a member of
the Calexico council when some of the contracts with city workers were being
worked out. He left the council for his county board seat in early 2019.
“If anybody deserves (pay
raises), it’s them,” Escobar added. “Kudos to (the city employees) and kudos to
administration for being able to turn the corner and offer employees
Advocate for Calexico’s
homeless population and co-founder of the Brown Bag Coalition, Maribel Padilla,
noted she encounters city employees several times a week when she is downtown
feeding the homeless.
“It’s about time, because
it’s always the city employees who take the hit for the community,” Padilla
said March 2.
The cost of living goes
up, the cost of food and utilities go up, and “still no raises,” she said.
“It’s long overdue. The
city employees, for the most part, it’s been over 10 years since they last got
a raise. They really tightened their belts on this one,” said Alex Perrone, a former
mayor and current Business Improvement District board member, on March 3.
Added business owner and
Calexico Chamber of Commerce Director Louis Wong, “I think they deserve a raise
because in the past they have been supporting the budget with wage reductions.
“If our finances
allow that we should support them, we have to pay them fairly,” Wong said March
3, “so they will support our city and take care of our city.”