The Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly on Tuesday mulled salary schedule increases for top borough administration officials.
Resolution 2012-054, which was introduced by Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, was pulled off the assembly's consent agenda and discussed at length during the regular meeting.
Assembly member Bill Smith said the resolution increased the salary ranges for Appendix A personnel by 4.6 percent, which he said was due to cost of living inflation indexed at 3.6 percent and the remaining 1 percent "mirrors" a raise the borough's union employees received by contract as of July 1.
The increase to the schedule doesn't mean automatic raises, Navarre said. Rather it allows the mayor flexibility to adjust salaries, even those already at the maximum allowed. He said he would study what changes have been made to those positions before making any increases.
"What I'm looking at doing is giving a cost of living increase and not what the employees who are part of the union got, which was cost of living plus 1 percent," he said after the meeting. "... A couple of years ago when the mayor came in, he just increased some people by a lot and didn't increase others at all. The assembly took exception to that."
The assembly ultimately passed the resolution 7-2. The dissenting votes were cast by assembly member Charlie Pierce and Smith.
There are between 45 and 50 employees included in Appendix A at any given time including department heads, directors and the borough's attorneys. The new minimum level of the salary schedule is $57,035 and the maximum is $120,048 per year.
"You've got the 'me too,' syndrome going on," Pierce said. "The very people who sit down and negotiate these benefits, wage and hour provisions (with the union) are also going to receive the same provisions for themselves."
Pierce questioned the assembly's expertise to set such ranges and called on Navarre to do an official wage study.
"To just go out there with blinders on and say, 'You know, we are going to do the same thing we negotiated with our union employees,' I think is probably not a wise move at this point," Pierce said. "I think it deserves a little more scrutiny and a little more oversight."
Assembly member Linda Murphy agreed the wage and salary study should be done, but supported the schedule increase.
"If we fail to act, the only people who will be affected by our failure to act are those employees who are already at the maximum in their pay range," she said. "I don't see this as body giving the green light to increasing salaries by 4.6 percent across the board in Appendix A. We are just inflation-proofing the schedule. The mayor of course has the authority to set salaries."
Navarre said the borough has set aside funds for a salary analysis in the 2013 budget to be started in July. He noted the schedule hasn't been updated since 2010.
"Sometimes it can be a subjective process comparing public sector to public sector and we'll look at expanding it to try and get a balance between what is being paid in the private sector (and) what we should be paying," he said. "... I'm going to work within whatever confines the assembly puts around it, but the fact of the matter is that I came in with people who are at a cap that I can't give raises to even if I think it is justified because of actions that were taken by previous administration."
Assembly president Gary Knopp said he reluctantly supported the resolution despite having seen the schedule go up several times before.
"I don't know what the fix is," he said. "Everything we do in regards to finances is on the backs of taxpayers and there is a point in time when a position is only going to demand so much money. When we reach that point, the correction is typically going to be ugly unless we have a rollover of people and they come in at a lower range."
The borough assembly on Tuesday also:
* Unanimously approved Ordinance 2012-19-01, accepting and appropriating $1.1 million for the Homer High School track improvements from the state of Alaska.
* Unanimously introduced ordinances accepting and appropriating grants totaling $1.1 million for the Kenai Peninsula School District for equipment, supplies and student nutritional services, $3.1 million for track and field improvements at Soldotna High School and Kenai Central High School, $1.6 million for security camera systems at borough-owned facilities, $2 million for Central Peninsula Hospital's radiation oncology center, $1 million for hazard tree removal and $8 million for road service area improvement projects from the state of Alaska. Public hearings on those ordinances are scheduled for Aug. 7.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.