A portion of the city's more than $2 million reserve will be used to give employees a 4 percent cost-of-living increase 1.2 percent more than what the Denver-Boulder Cost of Living Index recommends.
City Councilor Don Jones suggested the larger-than-average increase, saying the Denver-Boulder CLI does not apply to Craig.
"You pay $1.20 for a gallon of gasoline in Denver and $1.60 in Craig," he said.
A 4 percent raise translates into a $177,616 expenditure citywide.
That money, City Manager Jim Ferree said, would probably come from the city's reserve because revenue is projected to be flat for the 2003 budget.
The city is required to keep three months of its operating budget in reserve, which translates to $1.8 million. The city's current reserve is $2,025,949.
"When we first began to budget, there was enough money in reserve to accommodate a cost-of-living increase," Ferree said. "There's money there."
The city has a formula determining merit raises, which are based on an employee's number of years with the city. That is automatically calculated into the budget.
"You've got to take care of the people who work for you," Jones said. "We've got a great staff a dedicated staff and we ought to take care of them."
The council made several changes to the budget during Thursday's workshop, and Ferree said he and other staff members have to make those changes before determining where in the budget employee raises would come from.
The increase came as a surprise to some city employees.
"That'll be great," utility billing clerk Allison Bailey said. "I guess I'll have to tell them (the council) 'thank you.' To tell you the truth, I didn't expect anything."
The increases would go into effect Jan. 1 if the council approves the final version of the budget.
This year the city will spend $2,796,100 out of the general fund in wages plus more than $76,000 in overtime.
The Craig Police Department is budgeted to spend $45,000 in overtime and the Parks and Recreation and Road and Bridge departments $25,000 each.
The seasonal nature of the work that can be done in those departments is what drives the amount of overtime up, Ferree said.
"Department heads monitor overtime to see whether an additional employee at regular time and regular pay would save money," he said. "In Parks and Recreation, you can keep a lot of people real busy in the summer, but in the winter, it's a waste of money to have a person on full time."
The city budgeted $10,000 to hire a consultant to do a wage comparison survey. The last survey was in 1996 and was completed by the city.
Ferree said it's important to have an unbiased party complete the survey.
More than half the city's workforce is topped out in the merit pay system, and Ferree said he's constantly getting requests to reclassify employees, which can cause internal conflicts.
"It makes more sense to re-evaluate these positions and see if reclassification is necessary in how it relates to other positions," he said. "We'd like to see what the market value of those positions are."
Ferree said he thinks the city is pretty competitive and doesn't anticipate many changes.
City staff members hope to save money on the survey by outlining various job descriptions in advance. Other than that, the consultant will be left alone to do an unbiased job.
"The staff agreed to back off and let the consultant do the job," Ferree said. "It can really cause problems if you do some internal politicking.
"People need to realize that some may benefit more than others."
Council members agreed that if a consultant was hired, the city had better be prepared to do what the consultant recommends in its entirety and find the money to do it.
"We either have to accept it or decline it, we can't piecemeal it," Jones said.
The survey is scheduled to begin after the first of the year.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or at email@example.com.
The Craig City Council is expected to vote on the first reading of an ordinance adopting the budget at its Oct. 21 meeting. The second and final reading is scheduled for Nov. 13.