When the fish ain’t bitin’

Pay raise for WM Sanitation workers?

Study results in proposal for more money for city employees

news@theeveningtimes.com

Sanitation workers are underpaid. No, it’s not a 50 year old headline from Memphis, it’s the conclusion of a wage analysis received this week for street and sanitation workers in West Memphis. The Public Works Commission heard the results of a pay survey done by city Human Resources Manager Janice Coleman.

Coleman’s numbers pointed to the need for about a five percent raise for hourly employees in the two departments under City Engineer Amanda Hicks in order to bring their pay more in line with the average for cities of comparable size. The commission recommended a budget amendment to allow the raises. The Budget Committee will hear it next, and then the process leads back to City Council for final consideration.

“For sure, a lot of our workers are being underpaid,” said Hicks. “The Street Department is doing well, holding its own, but in Sanitation, we are substantially off.”

The average proposed raise would be 5.6 percent.

Translated to hourly rates a sanitation driver would make $15, and the laborer $12. On the street department side, equipment operators would command $14 per hour with $9.75 for the laborers.

City Treasurer Frank Martin showed the price tag to commissioners as a new $41,000 cost to the street department and another $55,000 hole for sanitation.

Where will the city engineer find $55,000 to spread sanitation workers pay increases all around? Hicks aimed at productivity and efficiency. The sanitation department spent $60,000 in overtime last year.

“Overtime has really been the issue,” said Hicks. “I’ve talked to other cities around our size and overtime is not an issue elsewhere. It’s going to be on me, and I’ll be working with sanitation management to ensure that everything is picked up in an efficient manner, whether that means we have to work different routes, go to curbside service, or whatever it takes.

“Curbside is what’s being done everywhere in Arkansas, wherever you check,” said City Councilman James Pulliaum. “’It’s safer on the men as well.”

City Treasurer Frank Martin indicated the sanitation department had dug some deep holes and focused first on the $60,000 overtime expense experience from last year.

“Overtime for the front end loaders and the trash trucks alone was $52,000,” said Martin. “One person in management had $8000 of that. We’ve really lamented over that in years past. But, 17 employees took time off last year without pay, that really saved some bacon.”

An annual $8,000 overtime income would amount to about two hours of overtime, every single day, and is unprecedented elsewhere in the city or in comparable city sanitation within the compensation survey.

“Other cities just are not working overtime in sanitation,” said Hicks. “We are going to have to make adjustments. There are some shift around things to do; eliminate overtime, and adjust some other things inside the budget.”

Public Works Chair Councilwoman Ramona Taylor wanted to know about all the financial fallout from Martin. He said the sanitation department was already operating in the red, even after a fee increase just two years ago. The sanitation department stood in a $447,000 hole.

“As of 2017 we lost $17,000,” said Martin.

“Sanitation owes the utility $310,000 and owes the general fund $120,000. The utility pays for garbage fees on the front end whether they collect or not,” said Martin. “If it goes to the write off, then I have to deduct garbage out of the write-offs. That has generated the $320,000 bill. The general fund just had to loan them money in a couple years past. Right now they have $90,000 in operating and $300,000 in depreciation. They bought a $209,000 front end loader truck last year and roughly $150,000 was spent on repairs to sanitation vehicles.”

Adding to the stark reality of footing new pay increases, the workman’s compensation rate factor goes up disproportionately to the dollar increase.

“The worker’s comp modification rate increased,” said Martin. “The mod rate is a 1.87. Last year we spent $90,000 on workers comp; this year it was $101,000.”

It looked like a sieve.

“I mean there is a lot of money going out,” said Martin.

The final sanitation department efficiency plan has not been produced by Hicks. With all that being said the public works commission voted to approve the pay increase anyway and referred it back to the budget committee before it could go to the full city council for consideration on March 15.

“We still need to address long-term, how the general fund and utility can start recouping some funds,” said Martin.

“There has to be a repayment plan,” said Taylor.

“I think city engineer wanted more time in putting together both plans to save on overtime and the cost savings on curbside service,” said Taylor. “We did not make decisions on all that today. We should have that plan for next month.”

By John Rech

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