Atlanta City Council agrees to pay raises

The Atlanta City Council voted to approve a recommendation calling for a salary increase that will take effect January, 2014, after the 2013 election.

The measure passed by a vote of 10–4 with Councilmembers Carla Smith, Cleta Winslow, Alex Wan, Howard Shook, Yolanda Adrean, Felicia Moore, Joyce Sheperd, Michael Bond, Aaron Watson, and H. Lamar Willis voting in favor of the measure, and Councilmembers Kwanza Hall, Natalyn Archibong, C.T. Martin, and Keisha Lance Bottoms voted against.

The new salaries will be $60,300 for Council members and $62,000 for President of the City Council.

The move will raise salaries by more than 50 percent for members who will take office in January 2014. The pay increases amount to roughly $20,000, which appear to be the largest in Atlanta’s history.

The increase in compensation will take effect in 2014 and has no current budgetary impact.

The Council also voted to rescind an ordinance that would have provided the Council with an immediate pay raise over the next two years. No member of the current Council will see an increase in their salary until after the 2013 election.

An across-the-board pay increase for city employees has been held up in committee because of uncertainty about the Atlanta’s property tax collections. That hold up led to mass criticism of the the City Council’s pay increase during Monday’s meeting.

“I’m kind of dumbfounded that we’re standing here having this conversation,” said Ken Allen, president of Atlanta’s chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. “It’s absurd.”

The Council has not received a pay increase since 2005; a fact many say hampers or limits the city’s ability to attract some of Atlanta’s top talent from seeking a position on the Council.

“The EOCC worked tirelessly for almost eight months in an effort to determine comparable salaries for elected officials,” said Wendy Green, Chair of the seven-member Elected Officials Compensation Committee, an independent body of Atlanta citizens who review the compensation of elected officials every four years.

“The commission did not consider politics or past employee compensation adjustments in making our recommendation. We specifically relied on the empirical data provided by our consultant, The Shapiro Group, and one-on-one interviews with officials being impacted by our recommendations. While sensitive to the sentiments of constituents, our recommendation was based solely on our analysis of data from comparable cities and their elected officials,” concluded Green.

Discussing the compensation review process, Council President Ceasar Mitchell said, “While I support the EOCC’s recommendations, the Council did not request that the commission explore pay increases. It is a process that is mandated by the city’s charter. Moreover, it is worth noting that the Council rejected the previous commission’s recommended increase in 2008, resulting in what will effectively be an 8 year salary freeze on Council compensation.”

The last recommendation for a salary increase came in 2008 but was rejected by Council.

“I support the Council’s decision to increase salaries for the next sitting Council,” said Mitchell. “The current Council is fully aware of the time commitment required to be effective in the role and wish to have that commitment reflected in the next Council’s compensation.”

After an eight month review, the EOCC recommended a 33 percent increase in compensation, which according to its members is much more in line with other similarly situated cities.

The Atlanta City Council reports that their compensation is still substantially lower than that of their counterparts in cities such as Boston, Milwaukee, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

With the city forced to lay off and furlough employees, close City Hall on Fridays, and brownout certain Atlanta Fire Rescue Department ladder trucks, elected officials were intently focused on restoring fiscal health to the city. As a result, Council rejected the EOCC proposal.

The City of Atlanta has increased its reserves from a low of $7.4 million in 2010 to more than $110 million currently. The City is also working with the administration to achieve comprehensive pension reform, which is projected to save taxpayers up to $200 million over a ten year period.

This current proposal is one in a sustained series of ongoing targeted efforts by city leadership to make city workforce pay competitive with the market for comparable jobs. While initial funds for employee salary adjustments have been set aside in the two previous fiscal year budgets, Council is still working with the administration to address the specifics of this measure. Since the Mayor’s office has requested time to work out specific figures, Council has deferred in order to grant the administration time to do so.

Over the past several years, Council has also worked with the mayor and increased compensation whenever for police and firefighters to bring their salaries to at least 80 percent of market rate. Additionally, the Council has codified a living wage for all employees to ensure that no full-time city employee is eligible for public assistance as a result of receiving pay below the poverty income threshold.

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