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Colby proposes 69-cent hourly raise for all employees

City employees in Colby will be receiving raises next year based on a different formula then they’re used to, according to a proposal recently approved by the city’s personnel committee.

At a Nov. 19 committee meeting, Ald. Steve Kolden presented multiple options for next year’s wage calculations based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to track the cost of living.

Kolden, who is also superintendent of the Colby School District, is recommending that the city employ a CPI-based formula used by the school district for determining annual staff raises.

Based on the most recent CPI increase of 2.07 percent, the city’s seven employees would each receive a 51-cent hourly raise in 2020. This number was determined by applying the 2.07 percent increase to the city’s total pool of wages, and then dividing that amount evenly among employees.

On top of that 51-cent hike, the committee is also recommending a one-time additional increase in wages because of savings in the city’s health insurance costs for 2020.

After joining an insurance consortium last year, the city is looking at a zero percent increase in premiums for 2020. By comparison, Kolden said the average increase in premiums for public employees in Wisconsin is 4.4 percent for next year.

As a result, he said the city will be saving roughly $4,800 next year by not having to pay higher premiums. He recommended using half of that, about $2,400, to provide additional wage increases in 2020.

Under this proposal, each of the seven city employees will receive a 69-cent increase next year. All together, the city would pay its employees about $9,400 more next year under this plan.

Kolden stressed that the additional raises beyond the CPI were only possible because the insurance premiums are staying steady next year.

“If our insurance went up 4 or 5 percent, that money wouldn’t be there,” he said.

Ald. Dan Hederer wondered why the city wouldn’t want to hold on to all of that extra money, especially if the premiums go up by a lot in 2021. He said the 69-cent raises were “very significant,” especially after substantial raises were granted to two city employees last year in order to keep them from taking other jobs.

Other committee members, however, said they were OK with giving a one-time wage boost as long as the city was saving money elsewhere in the budget.

“It’s not like we’re going to be able to do this all the time,” said Ald. Nancy O’Brien.

Calculating raises based on the total pool of wages is a switch from the city’s normal practice of applying the same percentage to each employee’s wage.

City clerk Connie Gurtner said she had originally budgeted for 3 percent raises in 2020, but she supports the change proposed by Kolden.

“I like that everybody is getting the same dollar amount instead of a percentage,” she said.

When the same percentage increase is applied to every employee’s wage, Kolden said it results in an income gap growing over time between the city’s highest-paid employees and their co-workers.

Council members plan to meet with city employees before the next council meeting on Dec. 3 to discuss the new wage calculations and go over annual performance evaluations.

Election wages going up

The committee also recommended increasing wages for the city’s poll workers, in hopes of getting more people to help on election days.

Under a motion approved by the committee, the wage for election inspectors would increase from $8 to $10 per hour, and the hourly rate for the chief inspector increase from $9 to $12.

Gurtner said it’s been getting harder and harder for her to find enough election workers, especially since other municipalities are paying $10 to $13 per hour.

Since the poll workers only work about 7.5 hours on election day, she said the overall impact on the budget won’t be much if the raises are implemented.

Mayor Jim Schmidt also noted there is a lot more training required to be a poll worker than there used to be in the past.