BY STACIE LETT CAIN

The Statesville City Council agreed this week to raise the minimum hourly wage for all full-time city employees — except firefighters — to $15 per hour.

Councilman C.O. Johnson championed the move during Monday night’s meeting, asserting that some of the city’s lowest-paid employees are the hardest workers.

“I feel very strongly about this,” Johnson explained. “The sanitation department, for instance, are the ones especially who I feel is the most underpaid, and they have they dirtiest, nastiest job in the world, and they do the best job of anybody in Statesville. If I ever have a complaint, they have never not immediately jumped to address it.”

Arguing that many city employees who earn less than $15 an hour line are struggling to make ends meet, Johnson said this move is a long time coming.

“I don’t consider this a raise,” he said. “I consider it a salary adjustment that is way past due,” he said.

Although the resolution was met with support from nearly every council member, some voiced concerns that maybe this proposal was too early in a new budget year that is clouded with uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are 34 days into this budget, and we have no idea where we are going to be in terms of revenue for this year,” Councilman Steve Johnson explained. “I’m usually very hard on deviations from the budget, but this is the most noble one I’ve seen come before us. I’m just concerned about what revenue we may be losing this year.”

Councilman William Morgan agreed, but asked that the council postpone the decision until October to give the council a full quarter of the budget year to determine what revenue would be available. At that time, Morgan said the council might be in a position to give an across-the-board raise to all city employees.

“I think this is a morale issue as well as a financial one, and I want to make sure that all city employees understand their importance to us. A raise for all of them is way over due.”

The resolution passed by a 7-1 vote with Steve Johnson opposing. It will be three weeks before changes will be reflected in city employees’ paychecks.

The Statesville Professional Fire Fighters Association took issue with the fact that firefighters were excluded.

“Statesville City Council passes $15 per hour for all City employees …. Wait for it….. Yep, firefighters are excluded!” the SPFFA wrote on Facebook. “The message is simple. Work more hours and recieve less pay!”

City officials explained on Wednesday that compensation for firefighters, who work a 24-hour-on, 48-hour-off schedule, is handled differently than other hourly employees.

The council looked at the lowest paid employees overall, who happen to work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and made a one-time adjustment based on that information, Public Information Officer Nancy Davis explained in an email.

If the $15 per hour wage is applied to firefighters, it would have significant impact on the city’s operating budget, with starting pay for an entry-level firefighter jumping by $10,000, Davis said.  

At their annual retreat, council members made pay increases for all employees a priority. Staff will present the council with a revenue report in October when they revisit the matter, Davis said.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve the site plan for a proposed Harbor Freight that will be located on Turnersburg Highway. The public hearing was resumed from a previous council meeting and city staff recommended approval. The building project also must meet requirements stemming from the Turnersburg Highway expansion project by the NCDOT.

The council also nominated two people as alternate members of the city’s Board of Adjustment. Nancy Griffin and Roy West were approved by the council.

The city also tentatively approved an event sponsored by Centralina Realty to collect food for Iredell Christian Ministries. The “Fill the Truck” event is scheduled for September 13 at the city lot located at 215 West Broad Street. As beneficial as the event is to helping ease the burden on the city’s low-income population, there were also concerns about holding an event drawing 150 people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t want to actively participate in an event where we hear later people were hospitalized due to illness because of attending that event,” Mayor Costi Kutteh explained. “As important an event as it is, I will have reservations that we might not be better served with a drive-up event instead.”

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