As others cut, Clovis gives raises to city employees
Clovis city employees haven’t seen a raise in five years, but — unlike many public employees — they will get one this year.
The city is granting employees a 1% pay increase this year and a 2% increase next year.
City Council Member Harry Armstrong said the raises are a fulfillment of the City Council’s commitment to its workers.
“We asked them to make concessions and they did, and we said we would come back and do something for them when the time was right,” Armstrong said. “It isn’t a big raise but it’s better than no raise at all.”
Clovis’ decision to raise employee pay stands in contrast to other local governments, which have sought — or imposed — pay cuts on public employees to help close budget gaps.
Fresno, for example, has sought pay and benefit concessions from police officers, and imposed pay cuts last week on city electrical workers. Fresno County workers also have been hit with pay cuts.
Clovis officials are credited with planning as they saw the recession coming and then persuading employee groups to give up some pay before the city was forced to drain reserves.
“It sounded like very good planning and very forward thinking,” said Will Dickinson, public agency adviser with Sacramento-based Capital Public Finance Group. “I think that most people have been doing something to cut back on their benefits, but how successful they are depends on their unions and employees. But that definitely was the best course of action.”
The raises come after three years of pay cuts and then no raise last year for the city’s 475 employees. Employees last received a raise in the 2006-07 budget.
On Monday night, the City Council approved pacts with the city’s police union, nonsworn police employees and management employees. The city’s transit employees approved a contract two weeks ago.
Five years ago, city leaders told employees that raises would deplete city reserves. They asked employees to take pay cuts to reduce potential layoffs and maintain city services at the highest level possible.
At the time, other local governments weren’t seeking concessions from their employees.
“It was hard to get everybody to understand (the need) because we were out there early in the recession identifying that there were problems,” said City Manager Rob Woolley, who was finance director when the city’s money problems first surfaced.
Now, Clovis is seeing its financial problems ease.
The city expects to have more money from sales taxes in the coming year, in part because of a new shopping center with Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods and improved auto sales.
“It’s still a slow climb,” Woolley said.
However, property tax revenues — another key component to city finances — continue to drop, he said.
Still, the city is confident enough that finances are improving to add employees to its code enforcement division and to maintain service levels in parks, recreation and other areas after years of reductions.
The new labor contracts will help reduce the city’s burden from employee retirement programs. The city is granting employees an additional 2% raise in each of the next two years, but that money is earmarked for employee pensions.
About 10% of the city’s $54 million general fund — just over $5 million — goes toward employee retirement programs. The city is offsetting rising pension costs by having employees shoulder a larger share of the expense.
Closing the gap on retirement costs is an important part of the Clovis package, said Kurt Cline, a Fresno State associate professor of political science who teaches municipal budgeting classes. Retirement programs are long-term expenses that are difficult to cut.
“Today, it’s the pensions and benefits that have the real potential to break cities and counties,” he said. Using raises to help reduce the city’s retirement burden, he said, is “pretty crafty.”
Contracts have not yet been ratified by public utilities, professional and technical and clerical workers, three employee bargaining units that represent about 220 employees.
The city’s firefighters will vote on the raise package next week and are expected to ratify it, said Rich Cadigan, president of the 57-member Clovis Firefighters Association.
“Looking back, we are fortunate the city took these steps and it’s allowed us to be more solvent than some of our neighbors,” Cadigan said. “It’s not much (of a raise) but at least it’s not concession-style bargaining.”
By Marc Benjamin