While Mineral Wells city employees across the board are generally receiving a 2 percent pay increase next year, a handful of upper management employees are proposed to get significantly higher pay boosts.
City Manager Randy Criswell on Wednesday addressed questions raised by the Mineral Wells Index through a memo he dispatched to the mayor and city council members and provided the Index explaining salary increases of 10% to 22% for five members of who Criswell calls his "executive team" – the city secretary, finance director, public works director, police chief and fire/EMS chief.
"The city manager doesn’t work in a vacuum, and must rely on his staff to provide support," Criswell stated in the memo. "It is my opinion that these positions have been greatly under-compensated."
The proposed combined raises for those five positions in the 2019-2020 budget totals $56,223. That is on top of a 24% pay increase for the chief building official, an increase of $13,567, and the $41,786 salary increase approved for the city manager, a 33% increase, when he was hired earlier this year. Those seven positions combined total $111,576 in proposed salary increases.
Criswell said he performed a review of salaries using Texas Municipal League data comparing Mineral Wells salaries with those of cities of similar size.
"The answer is they don’t compare," Criswell stated. "We need these professionals to be compensated appropriately so we can continue to progress positively in Mineral Wells."
The manager said the proposed five executive team pay increases would bring them to within 90 percent of the average pay for those positions based on his comparisons.
"I was hoping we could at least get to an average pay, but I wasn’t able to make it work," Criswell stated. "However, I feel good about these levels of compensation for now. I hope we’ll be able to further study our entire salary structure in the future, but for now we need to do everything we can to retain our directors. I’ve asked them to do a lot and they’ve responded without hesitation. I also know they’ve gone without raises in the past, and I feel their work deserves appropriate compensation."
He also noted in the memo, "One of the things I’ve observed is the lack of support staff for the city manager."
The current and proposed salaries for the upper management positions are:
• City Secretary – $59,467 to $72,354.
• Public Works Director – $80,308 to $88,273.
• Finance Director – $85,238 to $97,171.
• Fire Chief – $85,238 to $96,735.
• Police Chief – $85,238 to $97,171.
• Chief Building Official – $55,739 to $69,306.
• City Manager – $128,214 to $170,000.
The $111,576 in cumulative proposed raises shown above accounts for nearly one-fifth of $603,383 in total general fund pay increases – employees not paid through one of the other funds such as the water utility fund and the airport fund. If approved as proposed by council, general fund employee pay would total $6.4 million in the next fiscal year, a 10% increase.
City council on Tuesday conducted public hearings and discussions on the proposed 2019-2020 and tax rate. There continue to be some largely minor changes and modifications to individual departments and overall revenue and spending projections.
The proposed operating budget totals $35.8 million, including $13.9 million in general fund expenditures, along with a proposed 3-cent property tax rate increase to 69.12 cents for the coming fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
According to city figures, approved general fund expenditures for the current fiscal year totaled $13.4 million, but are projected to end the year below that, at $11.8 million. The proposed $13.9 million in general fund spending is $500,000 over the current year's approved spending amounts.
The budget calls for reducing the estimated general fund balance by about $600,000 in the coming year, from $3.5 million down to $2.9 million.
Council members mulled over proposed budget changes provided them at the outset of Tuesday's meeting.
Regarding salaries, Criswell said one thing eliminated from the proposed budget was a $50,000 salary survey for the city.
"I think that's important," Criswell said of the survey, "but we should do it another way or another time."
The city manager also called council's attention to the airport fund, a separate self-sustaining fund that relies largely on fuel sales and building and hangar lease revenues to support salaries and operations. The fund is projected to have a fund balance at the end of the 2020 fiscal year of $70,182. Operating expenses this year totals $1.18 million.
"The airport concerns me," said Criswell. "I'm not trying to raise the panic flag but I think we need to look at ways to raise some revenues out there."
He said there are many improvements needed at the airport, "but you can't do them if you can't afford them," Criswell said.
Mineral Wells Regional Airport, which lasted year celebrated its 75th anniversary, has 68 leased hangars with a waiting list. Airport Manager Wayne Sanderson recently said economic development forecasts show the airport needing as many as 100 additional hangars over the next 10 years, largely attributed to Parker County growth.
Resident Ginny Milliken asked if the new company UASWERX is expected to provide an economic boost for the city. The company is working to make Mineral Wells a major regional unmanned aerial systems training and testing facility.
"That's unknown," Criswell said. "It would certainly be nice. I'm not anticipating any in this budget."
A question by resident Lann Murphy focused on a $1.4 million transfer from the separate water utility fund to the general fund. He questioned why in the wake of rising water rates the city then takes monies from that fund and places it in the general fund.
Criswell said unlike other separate funds, the city's general fund is not self-sustaining – meaning it doesn't generate enough revenue on its own to cover expenses. He said some large, growing cities do have self-sustaining general funds.
"That's not us," Criswell said. "Maybe one day we will see that, but it's not today."
Criswell added fund transfers are not uncommon, especially when one fund impacts another. He used an example of repairs to a water line requiring then street repair. He said he plans to examine those cost impacts in the coming year and have a better idea exactly what those numbers are.
Council set another public hearing date on the budget and tax rate for next Tuesday, Sept. 3, with final adoption planned for Sept. 17.
Following an executive session, city council voted 6-1 to engage Arlington municipal law attorney James T. Jeffrey Jr. as investigator into a complaint filed by City Secretary Peggy Clifton against Mayor Christopher Perricone. The mayor opposed the motion.
The complaint is said to be one involving a violation of the city charter by the mayor and, if validated by council based on the independent investigation, could lead to Perricone's removal from office.