A budget subcommittee of the Urban County Council has initially agreed with Mayor Jim Gray's proposed budget that includes pay increases for some of his staff.
But the pay increases were the subject of two different discussions during two separate council meetings on Tuesday.
Over the past year, the council has approved pay increases for four of the mayor's staff. There is also more than $40,000 set side in Gray's proposed $323 million budget for salary increases for at least two of nine mayor's office staffers.
The council started discussions on Gray's proposed budget on Tuesday. The council will take a final vote on the budget sometime in June before the beginning of the fiscal year.
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Some of the mayor's office staff raises over the past year have been for as much as $30,000, the Herald-Leader reported in an April 30 article.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, who oversaw the budget subcommittee that reviews the mayor's office budget proposal, told the council during a Tuesday meeting the subcommittee did not make changes to the mayor's proposed budget that included the raises.
But the subcommittee recommended further discussion on how those pay raises were calculated.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb, who is a former council clerk and city employee, said she had concerns about the process used to award those raises. The mayor's office staff participated in a compensation study along with many of the city's 3,000 employees.
As a result of that compensation study, the highest raise awarded to civil service employees is a little less than $15,000. Yet, raises for many of the mayor's office staff topped $15,000.
That compensation study did not recommend any raises for mayor's office staff. But the mayor's office staff did not fill out job questionnaires, which were used to determine if someone's salary should be increased.
They filled out those questionnaires after that compensation study was completed, city officials said.
Lamb said she is concerned that the mayor's office staff was treated differently than other city employees.
"I think it sets a bad precedent," Lamb said.
Gray and other city officials have defended the raises, saying they were a result of his staff moving into different positions with expanded roles. The pay increases were also ways to compensate Gray's staff — some of whom agreed to lower salaries when they joined the administration in 2011 during Gray's first term, when money was tight. Moreover, mayor's office staff are at-will employees and have no job security. City workers covered by union contracts and civil service employees have job protections.
But Lamb said the council has approved a policy for job reclassifications and pay increases that result in reclassifications. The pay raises for the mayor's office staff reclassifications are higher than what the council has established, she said.
"They don't follow this policy," Lamb said.
Lamb said after the meeting that she doesn't begrudge pay increases for hard-working staff. But if one class of employees is treated differently than another class of employees, it can create morale problems throughout government.
Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton said the mayor's office staff salaries were raised after she told Gray that Jamie Emmons, Gray's chief of staff, was not paid enough. Emmons makes about 25 percent less than Hamilton and the two work in tandem running the city's day-to-day operations, she said. Emmons also makes less than some commissioners, who run major departments, Hamilton said. Before raising his own pay, Emmons asked that the people who report to him — the mayor's office staff — be reclassified first and receive raises before he did, she said.
"I felt that his salary is not fair," Hamilton told the council.
A pay increase for Emmons of $29,674 for the next fiscal year will be before the council soon for a final vote. If approved by council, Emmons' annual salary will go from $93,635 to $118,000. That salary is in line with Hamilton's annual salary.