Council Members Debate City-employee Pay, Approve 2018 Operating, Capital Budgets

Dec 13, 2017

Fairbanks will have about $2 million less in the coming year to provide services and pay worker salaries, based on the $33.4 million operating budget the council approved Monday.

The city is anticipating tight finances in the coming year as state assistance continues to decline, but Mayor Jim Matherly says only two of five staff reductions he called for are included in the council-approved spending plan.

“I was proposing five layoffs – two firefighters, a risk manager, a payroll specialist, and then we weren’t going to fill a (position now occupied by a) retiring property manager,” he said.

The mayor says the only part of his personnel proposal the council agreed-to was not filling the position being vacated by the retiring property manager.

“We are retaining one firefighter, so we have one laid-off firefighter,” he said. “We decided to keep the risk manager. We decided to keep the payroll specialist, and we will not fill the property manager (position).

Before the vote, councilmembers sparred over the issue of city-worker salaries after Jerry Cleworth proposed an amendment that would reduce the proposed wage increase to firefighters by 1 percent. Cleworth’s amendment left intact a 4.1 percent pay increase that was to be awarded to firefighters under the terms of an arbitration agreement, as well as a 5 percent increase in the city’s contribution to their health-care coverage.

He said his proposal was an attempt to retain as many firefighters as possible and to be fair to all the other union-represented city workers.

“So when you look at this budget, there are no pay raises included for public works, AFL-CIO,” Cleworth said. “There is nothing for IBEW, which are all the City Hall employees. There’s nothing for PSEA, which is the police department (and) dispatch, although they did get a big bonus here recently. But there is a big increase in the fire department.”

June Rogers objected to Cleworth’s amendment, because she said it would violate the council’s stated intention to include the additional 1 percent in the overall arbitration award pay hike.

“We did make this decision,” she said. “We did go forward. And I find it way too difficult to go backwards on our word.”

Valerie Therrien agreed, and added that Fire Chief Jim Styers had urged council members to provide an incentive for younger firefighters to stay with the City of Fairbanks.

“We have an aging firefighter force,” Therrien said. “The younger firefighters may not stay with us, because of the wages. And we have some real concerns with attrition.”

Therrien also took issue with Cleworth proposing the amendment at the last minute change, saying it complicated the debate over the proposal. She cited that as her reason for voting against the budget, which passed on a vote of 5-to-1.

Also Monday, the council approved a $2.7 million capital budget for 2018.