Last week’s East Ridge City Council meeting was puzzling.
First, it lasted less than 20 minutes, which must be some kind of record for brevity in the modern era. What was really puzzling was that nobody _ not the city manager, not the mayor, not any of the four council members _ mentioned one word about the implementation of the employee’s salary stabilization plan or that the old McBrien School building will no longer be insured and it must be vacated.
If you haven’t been keeping up with city business in the last month, the salary stabilization plan put an additional $600,000 in the pocket of many city employees. According to the City Manager, this was an absolute necessity because employees have been hitting the door to take similar, better paying government jobs either in neighboring cities or counties.
If you haven’t been keeping up with city business in more than a decade, the old McBrien School has been slowly deteriorating for as long as East Ridge has owned it. Inaction on the part of three administrations to repurpose or sell the building has finally come home to roost.
In an Aug. 31 memo from City Manager Chris Dorsey to all employees, he wrote that the building is no longer insurable because of its general condition, asbestos issues, and the storage of combustible materials.
In a document from Public Entity Partners, the organization providing insurance for the building, it sites a laundry list of recommendations it made more than a year ago that were apparently never implemented. Those include: monitoring the entire building for fire and security; securing an electrical box in the main lobby; that a training room be relocated where damaged floor tiles contained asbestos; discontinue storing materials in the cafeteria and the public use of batting cages in the auditorium due to ceiling tiles containing asbestos; fix broken windows and empty air conditioner boxes to keep out wildlife; implement an asbestos abatement plan; develop a realistic housekeeping plan for stored materials.
Everybody inside City Hall was informed of this development in late August through the memo. I guess it wasn’t important enough for the citizens of this city to be informed by anyone from the dais at the Council Meeting.
Maybe it’s because of the optics of this entire slow-motion mess. If this building was owned by an individual or a business, city officials would have long ago demanded that the building either be brought up to code or condemned and razed. I doubt that it would have allowed 10 years to elapse before any action was taken.
What is the future of the building and the site? Sources inside City Hall say that a developer wants to buy it and build houses there. That sounds preposterous to this writer. Who would want to invest in a dwelling just yards from the fire and police headquarters? Sirens blaring at all hours of the day and night. A super-duper playground with a splashpad is going in at some point right outside the front door. Oh yeah, this is closer than the screaming emergency vehicles. And, don’t forget about the dog park that is planned for next door.
It would not surprise this writer one bit if the park/splashpad is built, the dog park is installed, the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to raze McBrien then sells the whole shooting match to a developer.
The salary stabilization issue is almost as puzzling.
In an e-mail to East Ridge News Online, City Manager Chris Dorsey explained the move: “When (Human Resources) analyzed the positions, she (Michelle Sinigaglio) did not focus on percentage of increase. Rather, she looked at disparate salary issues and focused on dollar adjustments. Her main areas of study focused on market discrepancies, gender and salary compression. Keep in mind these results reflect a market analysis. They do not address length-of-service, merit, cost-of-living or other factors that can contribute to compensation.”
Many East Ridge taxpayers have no problem paying first responders a competitive salary. A look at the rank and file of the salary stabilization plan showed that new officers got a raise from about $42,700 to $46,700. More experienced officers went from $46,600 to $48,600.
The Chief of Police got more than an $8,000 raise, and the Deputy Chief received just over a five grand bump.
The HR study showed that our cops who serve warrants were already at a higher salary than similar cities. So were East Ridge detectives. What happened? They all got raises.
In the fire department, the rank-and-file firefighters got about a five grand salary increase to about $46,000, similar pay to surrounding cities. That makes sense.
What is harder to understand is why the firefighters with a rank of Commander didn’t get comparable pay to their counterparts? The HR study showed these guys should be paid $64,700 per year. The three Commanders at ERFD went from $54,700 to $60,700.
Here’s the real zinger. Our Deputy Fire Chief, a holdover from days of long ago, has a current salary of $75,500. The HR study showed that surrounding departments pay about $66,000 a year. You guessed it. The man keeps his current salary.
After that sinks in consider this: some poor person in codes enforcement took a pay cut of $1,200 a year, even though the HR study showed they were underpaid about $2,000 a year. Another employee in codes doing the same job got a $8,700 raise. Hmmm.
The big winner in the salary stabilization plan appears to be our city’s Finance Director. The current salary of $71,100 leaped to $93,900.
And, the HR manager, the person tasked with performing the study and an East Ridge employee for less than a year, went from an annual salary of $56,600 to $70,000. However, her own study revealed that surrounding areas pay their HR manager about $82,100 a year.
I guess the city manager thought that a $25,000 raise for the rookie employee under the auspices of a salary stabilization plan that she was in charge of was a bit too much even for him.
Obviously, he didn’t want to bring that up during last week’s 19-minute, 17-second council meeting. I guess there wasn’t enough time for that.