City staff to review proposal for police, firefighter raises
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Aug. 4, 2004 -- A request for additional direction from the council by City Manager Marc Maxwell turned into a lengthy discussion on pay raises for police and firefighters during Tuesday evening's regular city council meeting as Maxwell said the figures from Mount Pleasant were somewhat misleading.

"I needed to come back to you for some more direction on this," Maxwell told the council. "Last time, we had come to the understanding there would be some $200,000 for police pay raises and $137,000 for fire, and basically, we are trying to make both departments more in line with Mount Pleasant."

Both police and firemen last month presented pay hike requests and used surveys of comparable area cities to illustrate the need for more money. Council members recommended using numbers from Mount Pleasant as a guideline, but a closer look revealed some problems.

The more the city looked into the plan, the more it became evident the pay scale in Mount Pleasant did not accurately reflect the actual rates of pay for police and firefighters, Maxwell explained.

To fund the pay raises, the council had the option of seeking an increase of 5 cents per $100 property value or through the use of franchise fees levied on city water, sewer and sanitation services.

"The straight up and obvious choice of financing is property tax, but you could be talking in terms of five or six cents to fund all of it," said Finance Director Peter Karstens. "We talked about a funding source that other cities have used which is to go ahead and charge the three utilities in the city that do not, at this point, pay a franchise fee and go ahead and use that as a funding source for this general fund activity."

By increasing fees charged for service by the city-owned utilities, the city would then be able to, in effect, levy the franchise tax on itself and pass the cost on to all residents that use the services rather than increasing the tax rate paid by property owners.

Council members hope to finalize plans for the salary hikes for both departments during two budget meetings this month, on Aug. 10 and Aug. 17.

In other action Tuesday evening, the council put off until next week approving a resolution that would ask TXU Electric Delivery to explain why reductions have not been made in rates charged for the transmission and distribution of electricity.

A coalition of cities coalition, of which Sulphur Springs is a part, has been keeping an eye on the rate and thinks there is a good chance TXU T&D rates are excessive.

The resolution would require the local TXU office to provide the information to the city within 15 days.

Danny Hodges, local TXU manager, assured the council the utility would fully cooperate with the city and the coalition of cities in working to resolve the rate question.

Hodges said the Texas Public Utility Commission had recently thoroughly inspected TXU's rate structures and found no problems with them.

The utility manager told council members he felt the 15-day time frame, specified in the resolution, was too restrictive and would be inadequate for the research needed.

Ultimately, council members tabled any action on the resolution until a special meeting later this month.

In other action, following an executive session, the council ratified the appointment of Kevin McCarty to the position of Parks and Recreation Director for the city.

In presenting McCarty to the council, City Manger Marc Maxwell said Kevin has already been serving in the capacity of director since a vacancy came up several months ago.

Council approval of McCarty for the post was unanimous.

Approval was given to city staff to enter into negotiations with several firms for survey and mapping services for the proposed State Highway 11 extension.

Two firms had been recommended, but council members wanted staff to closely evaluate all available firms for the job.

The city has the responsibility for the survey work and mapping of the extension while the county will purchase the land necessary for the right of way. Actual construction of the highway extension will be handled by the Texas Department of Transportation.

The council also approved contracting with the low bidder for construction of roofs on the city hall and police building, as well as the water treatment plant and the waste water treatment plant.

Finance Director Peter Karstens told the council the city had received $103,000 from its insurance company as compensation for hail damage and that money would fund most of the roof work.

The low bid came slightly higher than budgeted but council agreed to proceed with the project after learning the low bid would be good until later this month, when it would increase due to price increases in materials and supplies.

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