Lawrence city commissioners are being asked to spend about $400,000 to provide city employees with a year-end reward.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider approving a year-end longevity program that basically will pay city employees $48 per year for each year that they have worked for the city. The program has a total price tag of $396,600 in 2010.
The city for decades routinely has made a year-end longevity payment, but the program has come under more scrutiny the last several years as the economy has tightened. This year city commissioners may have to dip into the city’s savings account to fund the program as city revenues have come in lower than expected.
“But I do think we want to recognize that in many cases city employees have taken on more responsibilities and are doing the work of the city with fewer employees,” said City Manager David Corliss, who is recommending the commission approve the program.
The city has cut its work force — not including police and fire positions — by about 15 percent, or 24 positions, since 2008. The city also hasn’t raised its mill levy by any significant amount since 2007, although voters did approve a trio of sales tax increases in 2008.
City commissioners on Monday were split on the issue. City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he was leaning toward approving the longevity payments, if the city could figure out how to do so while keeping the city’s budget balanced.
It is uncertain whether the city will be able to balance its budget and fund the longevity program. The latest city projections estimate that with the program in place, the city will need to pull about $100,000 from its fund balance account, which is the city’s version of a savings account.
Corliss said he’s comfortable pulling $100,000 from the fund balance account since the city has been able to grow the size of the account by $600,000 during the past three years. But Corliss also said he’s holding out hope that sales tax revenues will improve enough during the last three months of the year that it won’t be necessary to dip into the savings account.
Chestnut said he wants to take a harder look at the city’s estimates and see if there is a way to fund the longevity program and avoid tapping into the savings account.
“I think the longevity payment is in the spirit of good business sense,” Chestnut said. “We have city employees who are doing a good job of staying within a budget and they’re still providing the same level of services to residents, so if we can reward them for that we should.”
City Commissioner Lance Johnson, though, said he likely will not support the program. Johnson, who was the lone commissioner to vote against the payments last year, said he agrees that city employees have been doing a great job during the economic slowdown. But he said the financial times are not right for the program, especially as private sector workers have faced stagnant wages or wage cuts.
“I think there has been a point in time where public employees were not as well compensated for the same job that somebody was doing in the private sector,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think that is the case at all anymore. I think there are a lot of people in the private sector that are just happy to be drawing any type of paycheck.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.