Walker city workers get small raise, week off

— Christmas in Walker will not include fake snow or a tree filled with ornaments this year, but for city employees, it will include small pay raises and a full week off work.

Mayor Rick Ramsey said Monday that the city will give every employee and department head a $750 check in December that will translate into a 36-cent hourly raise for 2014. The raise will not apply to elected officials.

The city’s cost for the raises, at about $46,800, will be absorbed by more than $216,000 in savings from vacant positions left unfilled and employees taking on additional duties, Ramsey said.

The savings is substantial, Ramsey said, and “reflects the sacrifice that we’ve asked the employees to make.”

City employees also will be paid holiday time for the four-day work week that includes Christmas Day after the City Council on Monday approved moving two city-approved holidays that fall on Fridays, when City Hall is closed, and the New Year’s Day holiday to Christmas week.

In return, City Hall will be open for a full four-day work week Dec. 30 to Jan. 2.

Ramsey said the city will forgo its traditional Christmas display of snow and a tree this year, for a savings of about $15,000.

“I guess that makes me a Scrooge, but it’s more important to me that our employees are treated fairly and the city has a good operating budget for next year,” he said.

The City Council approved a standstill budget for 2014 after what Ramsey described as a “tough year” in 2013.

This fiscal year’s budget included sales tax projections based on nonrecurring revenue from the construction of the new Our Lady of the Lake campus, Ramsey said.

Reliance on that revenue set the city up for hard times and required a lot of belt-tightening, he said.

Although sales tax revenue has shown improvement over the past few months, indicating normal growth of 2 percent to 4 percent over the preconstruction figures, city officials are projecting flat revenue for 2014 to err on the side of caution.

Other savings realized during a tight 2013 included canceling stand-alone services already provided through other contracts, combining telephone and wireless plans, buying rather than leasing uniforms and limiting the number of take-home vehicles, Ramsey said.

Raising utility rates, for the first time in more than a decade in some cases, also helped.

In other business, the council members unanimously adopted an ordinance changing their titles from town aldermen to city councilmen to reflect Walker’s designation as a city following the 2010 census.