The Lee’s Summit City Council narrowly passed a bill Thursday on a 5-3 vote, paving the way for $5.5 million dollars in pay increases for city employees.
The measure reduces the minimum dollar amount required to be maintained in the city’s reserve fund, paving the way for the possibility of drawing funds from it to pay for the salary increases.
The city plans to implement some increases before June 30, the end of the city’s fiscal year, while others will be implemented at a later date, after collective bargaining takes place.
The vote was a culmination of months of studies and research to determine a new pay and classification plan for city employees. According to the findings, compensation for the city’s staff has been well under market for similar municipalities throughout the region.
Although council members unanimously agreed on the need to increase city employees’ salaries, that’s where the consensus ended there. How to pay for the increases remains the sticking point.
Several council members, including Craig Faith and Dave Mosby, believed it was vital to raise city employees’ income, regardless if funding for the measure was locked down or if city reserves would be tapped to fund the increases.
“We can do this and we need to do this,” Faith said. “Our staff is our city’s largest asset. We have people who feel devalued and we need to realign our priorities. We will pay our staff and we will not deplete our reserves.”
It’s unclear how the council intends to make that happen, but Fred DeMoro also supported the bill despite the uncertain funding.
“This is something we can do,” he said. “It is time our employees deserve the action of this council.”
Not all council members were sold. Diane Forte and Trish Carlyle were among those who balked at approving the increases without an identified, sustainable funding source.
“I just don’t want to spend money we don’t have and I question the sustainability of these salary increases,” Forte said. “I’m voting ‘no,’ because I don’t know where the money is coming from.”
Carlyle agreed: “Without a revenue source to tie it to, I can’t pass it. I can’t vote to take money out of our reserve.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rob Binney, who is running for mayor along with Bill Baird and Ron Williams, also rankled at the idea of tapping into the city’s reserves along with Forte and Carlyle.
“There’s a reason there’s a reserve fund,” Binney said. “With one lawsuit or one missed insurance payment, we’re in a dark place. If we take that reserve balance down, it could impact our city’s future.”
City Manager Steve Arbo also weighed in prior to the vote, expressing concern about adding such a big budget obligation without first knowing from where the money would come.
“I wouldn’t vote for 18-20 without a known revenue source,” Arbo said. “We need to take a long look at the budget before we know about a solid revenue base to fund this bill.”
Still, Mosby said it was imperative to make a commitment to the city’s employees and look for ways to avoid dipping into the reserve coffers.
“We want to provide for our employees,” he said. “We’ll look at ways to pay for this. Our employees have a need right now. A lot of good things can happen before we have to go to the reserve.”
In other business, several business owners weighed in on the Jefferson Street Improvement Project.
Two ordinances are under consideration that would determine the necessity of acquiring land for road improvements associated with the project, including taking the property of several businesses along Jefferson Street.
Chad Anderson — owner of Case Enterprise, located at 1305 Jefferson Street — is one of the business owners who would be impacted by the ordinances. He said he was offered $155,000 for his 10,000 square-foot property and 1,500 square-foot building in January.
Since the offer was made, Anderson has found two comparable buildings in Lee’s Summit, both of which are listed with a value in excess of $350,000. He is now looking at listings in Independence and Raytown and may have to move his business from Lee’s Summit, if the bills pass.
“The city is staying outside the boundaries of our building for the street project, so how are they justifying taking the entire building?” Anderson asked the council. “Can they take our entire property, if no easements are coming onto our building?”
Anderson’s is not the only business affected and considering options outside Lee’s Summit.
Paula and Randy Fields, owners of Missouri Manufacturing at 1301 Jefferson Street, also received an offer from the city to purchase their property.
“This company is our livelihood,” Randy Fields said. “Like Chad, we can’t find any property in Lee’s Summit close to what we have on Jefferson Street. We’re going to have to pack up and move out of Lee’s Summit. This is a serious matter that will affect a lot of people.”
Anderson requested the council hold a public hearing, so business owners could make their concerns known.