The salaries and benefits of city employees are once again turning into a pressure-cooker issue at City Hall.
Last year, a proposal for across-the-board pay cuts to help balance the 2010 budget created infighting and animosity toward city employees after their salaries became public.
Get ready for Round 2.
The first sign of things to come happened Monday when City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft and City Council members, who are starting budget discussions early this year, reviewed options to deal with projected shortfalls in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Culbreth-Graft, who has consistently said she opposes pay cuts, told council members that she didn’t recommend reducing employee benefits and compensation to bridge the budget shortfall in 2011.
“You know my feeling on the matter, and we have seen impacts on our workforce just as a result of the discussions,” she said, adding that the council makes the final decision.
Her comments – and a companion report stating that reducing employee compensation and benefits were “not recommended” – didn’t sit well with at least two council members.
Councilman Tom Gallagher, who advocated pay cuts last year, said he was “disappointed” and “a little disturbed” that Culbreth-Graft hadn’t provided the council more information about employee compensation and benefits despite previous requests.
“I understood it was not recommended when I asked for the information,” he said. “I am tired of making decisions with incomplete information.”
(To listen to Gallagher’s comments at Monday’s meeting, click here and fast-forward to 2:42)
Gallagher also said that “many municipalities in this state, many of the counties in this state, have gone down that road” of cutting salaries and benefits.
“I’m not convinced that we’re where we need to be to be a sustainable community,” he said.
As difficult as it may be, Councilman Randy Purvis said the council needs to consider reducing employee compensation and benefits as a cost-cutting measure.
But the city administration first has to provide the necessary information for council members to conduct a thorough review, he said.
“I thank you for putting your position face up on the table,” Purvis told Culbreth-Graft.
“But with all respect, Ms. City Manager, it’s not your decision to make. It’s council’s decision,” he said.
(To listen to Purvis, click here and fast-forward to 2:50)
Afterward, Purvis told Culbreth-Graft he didn’t mean his comments to be disparaging.
“I respect you, and I appreciate your position and think we’ll go forward together,” he said.
Culbreth-Graft told council members that she had planned to bring them back salary information.
“We would typically bring that to you in a May or June timeframe,” she said. “At your request, we have already indicated that we would be expediting that and be bringing that back sooner than later.”
The tension spilled out of the meeting.
At 11:11 p.m. Monday, Jeremy Kroto, vice president of the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters union, sent council members an e-mail calling Gallagher’s comments “dishonest and irresponsible.”
The next day, Gallagher fired back.
”You can quote me on this: (expletive) them,” Gallagher said in a telephone interview.
The city has 1,610 employees whose paychecks come out of the general fund, which pays for day-to-day operations.
The city’s 2010 general fund budget is $212 million, about $16 million less than the amended 2009 budget, officials said today.