Local Politics

Raleigh meets workers' demands, OKs budget

Posted June 16, 2009 3:15 p.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2009 7:06 p.m. EDT

— The Raleigh City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve a $697.6 million budget that includes enough money to hold the line on health insurance premiums for city workers while still providing them merit raises.

Councilman Philip Isley cast the sole dissenting vote on the budget, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Raleigh's property tax rate will remain at 37.35 cents per $100 valuation under the budget.

The budget proposed last month by City Manager Russell Allen called for higher insurance premiums while scrapping cost-of-living adjustments and capping merit raises at 4 percent.

The plan drew an angry response from groups representing police officers, firefighters and other city workers. The workers were especially upset that the council gave Allen a 4.75 percent raise as part of a contract extension.

During a Monday work session, Mayor Charles Meeker proposed using some reserve money traditionally set aside for debt payments to pay for added insurance costs for city workers. Councilman Russ Stephenson countered with a proposal that would have eliminated merit pay for six months to hold the line on insurance costs.

After much debate Monday and Tuesday, the council supported Meeker's idea.

"I know this has been a year when a lot of things were cut and not everything was funded. I think we've come to a reasonable resolution as best we can," Meeker said.

"We may not have gotten what we wanted, but we got a fair deal," said Keith Wilder, president of the Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association. "It's a tight year, a tight year for everybody."

The mayor's proposal also restored city support to some nonprofit groups, such as the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. The food shuttle collects food from supermarkets and restaurants and distributes it to needy residents.

"We've got more and more people who used to contribute funds (for us) to do our jobs now asking for help," said Jill Staton Bullard, executive director of the food shuttle.

The council also agreed to stick by its commitment to Allen. When city workers protested, council members decided to take a second look at his raise. After some discussion Tuesday, the council chose not to rescind or reduce the increase.

Wilder said his group doesn't object to the council's decision on Allen's raise, saying it would be hypocritical of workers to seek higher raises and deny the city manager his increase.

Councilman Rodger Koopman proposed that the city study pay increases for public safety officers in Raleigh and other cities. The study is expected to be completed this year.

The new city budget also cuts 85 vacant positions to eliminate a projected $20 million shortfall.

The Parks and Recreation Department takes the biggest hit, losing 27 open positions. The city would also cut operating hours and maintenance at community centers, public pools, parks and greenways.

Other departments with sizable cuts include inspections and public works, with 15 and 11 positions, respectively.