It hasn't been the best of financial years at Lawrence City Hall, but city commissioners are being asked to spend about $400,000 to reward longer-serving city employees.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will consider approving what has become an annual tradition at Lawrence City Hall — a year-end "longevity payment" that is made to every city employee who has at least five years of service.
"The service this community receives doesn't happen without great employees," City Manager David Corliss said. "We want our employees to see Lawrence as a career destination. We want them to stay here."
The bonus program amounts to $48 per year for every year of service the employee has with the city. Only employees who have five or more consecutive years of service are eligible for the program. The city has been paying a longevity bonus since at least the 1990s.
But this year commissioners will be asked to approve the bonus despite projections that the city's general operating fund will spend more than it receives in revenue in 2013. City Manager David Corliss said the most recent projections show the city may need to dip into the fund balance of its general operating fund — a type of savings account for the city — to the tune of about $200,000.
The year-end longevity payments, though, won't increase the amount of money the city will have to pull from its savings account. That's because the approximately $420,000 that will be paid to about 590 city employees already is included in the city's 2013 budget. But the amount was included as a discretionary item in the budget, meaning city commissioners reserve the right to cancel the payments, if financial conditions warrant it.
Corliss said he doesn't think the projected shortfall in the general fund— the first since the late 2000s — warrants an elimination of the longevity payment program. Corliss said a good portion of the projected shortfall comes from a city commission-approved decision to provide the Lawrence Community Shelter with a $725,000 loan that was not included in the city's 2013 budget.
Corliss said the fund balance for the general fund will still be well above the city's minimum guidelines. The city has projected to end the year with a fund balance of a little less than $13 million, which would still be about 4 percent greater than the minimum called for in the city's financial policy.
Corliss said the year-end payments have been an effective way of keeping longtime employees that have a wealth of knowledge about city systems that would be difficult to quickly teach new employees.
"There is a lot of this that is only gained from years or sometimes decades of experience," Corliss said. "We have a relatively low attrition rate, and I think that is because we are viewed as a quality place to work. But that doesn't come without devoting resources to it."
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.