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Council approves 3% cost of living increase for city workers

City workers will receive a 3% cost of living increase to their paychecks beginning in January following council’s unanimous approval.

The adjustment, which council approved at its Nov. 4 meeting, will be for all full-time and regular part-time city employees — including grant employees, the registrar and their employees, constitutional officers and their employees, along with council appointees who were employed with the city prior to Oct. 1 — and takes effect Jan. 1.

The increased cost is about $1.4 million across all funds, including $1.05 million to the general fund, which includes salary and fringe benefits, would come from real property tax revenue. The remaining money would come from other city funds.

City Finance Director Tealen Hansen indicated during a brief presentation that the city’s general fund, through the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, is projected to exceed budgeted revenue by $4 million at year’s end. The city projects its other funds to have enough money available to absorb the 3% cost of living increase.

“We do feel that it is not necessary to amend the other funds’ budgets,” Hansen said.

Councilman Roger Fawcett said he supported the cost of living increase for city workers. He said this should not be confused with the CARES Act money used to provide them with hazard pay for their work dealing with COVID-19.

“This 3% that’s being put on the table iis in lieu of what we would have probably done in the July start of the budget,” Fawcett said. “I fully support 3% for these city employees. And I don’t want to hear all about this, ‘They weren’t working. They weren’t here, COVID this, COVID that.’ We haven’t missed a beat in this city as far as getting work done.”

Councilman Tim Johnson said that while he appreciates the 3% cost of living increase for the city employees, he wants to be sure that enough money is there to support the community in the event there is a future need.

“Our city’s financially healthy, but are we going to be that way six months from now?” Johnson said, adding, “We don’t do this lightly. We give you the pay raise because you earned the pay raise.”

Like Johnson, Councilman Mike Duman said he was also concerned about the process.

“We are creating a recurring expense,” Duman said. “This is not a one-time deal. … This is a COLA increase. It will roll over to the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.”

Duman said he would have preferred to hash out the details, discuss different options and review the fiscal impact during a work session.

Still, he said he supported the increase.

Interim City Manager Al Moor said Newport News city employees recently received a 2.5% cost of living increase and Portsmouth city employees received 3%

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said the city’s projected budget revenues are encouraging and said city staff deserve the raise.

“I don’t want anybody in the city to think that we can’t take care of our citizens and our employees and whatever else,” the mayor said. “We are financially in a good place in the city, and so, we need to show our employees, because they’re the folks who keep the wheels turning.”